Monthly Archives: March 2013

Indo Portraits

I have been in Indonesia for just over a week now and without exaggeration I have likely been in at least 500 photographs with local people.  That’s averaging about 70 a day, which is not unlikely.  Everywhere we go people are living in the simplest conditions, in wooden shacks over the water, wearing plain, cheap clothes, and buying their food on the streets or in the busy open air markets – but everyone, and I mean everyone – has a cell phone with a camera.

Me and the Chief of a remote Asmat Village in West Papua, Indonesai.  If you look closely, he's holding a cell phone.  Connected and ready to take photos.

Me and the Chief of a remote Asmat Village in West Papua, Indonesia. If you look closely, he’s holding a cell phone. The Chief is connected and ready to take photos.

“Foto Miss, Foto Miss,” is the call I’m surrounded by everywhere I go.  When the ship comes into port, generally we have elaborate welcome ceremonies with dancing and drums, and that involve the Captain and honored guests from the ship in gift giving and long, drawn out and often translated speeches from local politicians.  On the outskirts of these ceremonies are hundreds of local Indonesians who want to see the visitors and welcome them to their city, town, or village.

A photo taken with ladies outside a welcome ceremony in Toli Toli, Sulawesi, Indonesia.  I love the face of the woman on the far left.

A photo taken with ladies outside a welcome ceremony in Toli Toli, Sulawesi, Indonesia. I love the face of the woman on the far left.

Most of the people are under 20.  The population explosion is blatantly obvious and kids are absolutely everywhere.  Usually they are in their school uniforms and waving to us from the schoolyard, but if the town is small enough then our arrival is a full-blown holiday and the kids are let out of school for the big event to escort us through the streets and practice their basic English.

These school kids and university students were out of school for half the day on our arrival in Toli Toli, Sulawesi, Indonesia.

These school kids and university students were out of school for half the day on our arrival in Toli Toli, Sulawesi, Indonesia.

I’ve come to believe that the ubiquitous photo taking is just an excuse – a cover for getting close to us foreigners – to stand next to us and put a tentative arm across your shoulder, or lean our heads in close to one another.  Often people want their whole family in the picture with you and I’m being given babies to hold and children to huddle up with – it’s fantastic.

Someone proudly holding up their beautiful baby for a photo with a visitor outside a welcome ceremony in Toli Toli, Sulawesi, Indonesia.

Someone proudly holding up their beautiful baby for a photo with a visitor outside a welcome ceremony in Toli Toli, Sulawesi, Indonesia.

The Indonesians seem to love tactile intimacy and it’s plain as you walk the busy streets and see both men together and woman together with hands on each other’s shoulders and casually holding hands.  The sense of touch and closeness to friends and family is clearly very important and prevalent in people’s interactions with each other.

Students who were allowed out of school to greet our ship in Kokas, in the MacCluer Gulf of Western Papua, Indo.  Hundreds of kids walked us from their traditional market into the town for dances, speeches, and welcomes.

Students who were allowed out of school to greet our ship in Kokas, in the MacCluer Gulf of Western Papua, Indo. Hundreds of kids walked us from their traditional market into the town for dances, speeches, and welcomes.

The photo itself is ultimately not that significant, because on the rare occasions when there is no Indonesian camera at the ready, the people in the photo with me are very happy to have someone else take the photo with my camera without sharing it or even seeing the picture.  The relevant matter at hand is just the fact that the photo is made; the people came together and the moment was captured.

A group shot with our student guides in Ternate in the Halmahera region of the Spice Islands, Indonesia.  Their English was excellent.  The young woman on the right had studied English in Nova Scotia and spoke with a Canadian accent.  Pretty cool.

A group shot with our student guides in Ternate in the Halmahera region of the Spice Islands, Indonesia. Their English was excellent. The young woman on the right had recently studied English in Nova Scotia on a volunteer exchange program and spoke with a Canadian accent. Pretty cool.

In my limited Indonesian I can say, “take a photo together” and this is met with smiles and huge enthusiasm and is often repeated right back to me.

One of possibly hundreds of photos snapped with school kids in Ternate, Halmahera, Indonesia.

One of possibly hundreds of photos snapped with school kids in Ternate, Halmahera, Indonesia.

“Bikin foto bersama.”  Great words to know if you ever find yourself in Indonesia.

I just had to take this photo of a little girl in her shades and shiny boots in the market of Kokas in the MacCluer Gulf of Western Papua, Indonesia.  She's priceless.

I just had to take this photo of a little girl in her shades and shiny boots in the market of Kokas in the MacCluer Gulf of Western Papua, Indonesia. She’s priceless.

The Asmat

I just spent two days in a region of New Guinea called the Asmat.  To bring our ship up miles and miles of wide, shallow river lined with mangrove forests, we had to send two Zodiacs out in front of the ship to read the depths.  The Zodiacs were equipped with digital depth sounders to read the depths out in front of the ship.  I volunteered to help take soundings from one of the small boats on the journey into the Asmat starting around 10 pm.  The ship didn’t drop the anchor until nearly 3 am, almost 5 hours later.

Two Zodiacs heading out in front of the ship to take depth soundings in the Asmat region of New Guinea, Indonesia.

Two Zodiacs heading out in front of the ship to take depth soundings in the Asmat region of New Guinea, Indonesia.

For several hours my job was to watch the tiny screen of the depth sounder and radio the bridge with our depths at regular intervals.  A second Zodiac meanwhile did the same thing on the other side of the ship; both of us well out in front.  The idea was that if we suddenly came into shallow water we could tell the bridge in time for the Captain to slow the ship down before they were in danger of running aground.  It was a long, tedious 5 hours, getting soaked by water coming over the side of the inflatable boat and trying to concentrate on the small screen in the light of my headlamp.  Between the splashing waves and my own waves of exhaustion, the only excitement came when we started to get into some deeper water near the village of Agats, and finally dropped our anchor.

My view for almost 5 hours in the Zodiac reading depths back to the bridge of our ship.  You can see we were in 11 meters of water here and the ship needs 4.2 meters.  A tight squeeze!

My view for almost 5 hours in the Zodiac reading depths back to the bridge of our ship. You can see we were in 11 meters of water here and the ship needs 4.2 meters. A tight squeeze!

We were welcomed by an armada of canoes paddled by warriors wearing war paint, headdresses and ropes of beads, shells, and huge carved bones.  There must have been 200 men and boys in the canoes, who paddled out and around our 10 zodiacs.  At first they paddled out in a long line and then they were surrounding us and then cutting through the middle of all the boats, grabbing a hold of the Zodiacs on either side as we gently towed them along and closer to the village.  The whole time, the warriors were chanting, singing, yelling and hitting the sides of the canoes with their tall paddles in perfect sync with one another.  It was amazing.  Eventually, they let go of our boats and took off in front of us to lead us into the village and the muddy shore.

The Asmat people paddle their canoes standing up -- an incredible feat of balance and strength and coordination.

The Asmat people paddle their canoes standing up — an incredible feat of balance and strength and coordination.

 

Asmat Warriors paddling out to the ship and the waiting Zodiacs

Asmat Warriors paddling out to the ship and the waiting Zodiacs

 

Asmat men and boys greeting us and then grabbing onto our Zodiacs for a tow.

Asmat men and boys greeting us and then grabbing onto our Zodiacs for a tow.

All of us scrambled ashore and walked around the boardwalk community greeting the locals, taking photos of the smiling, laughing kids, and watching the various welcome ceremonies going on all around us.  The Asmat people performed traditional dances, ritual warfare, and the erection of two Bis poles in front of their long house.

The staircase here was built especially for us so we wouldn't have to walk across the mud.

The staircase here was built especially for us so we wouldn’t have to walk across the mud.

It was spectacular to take in all the colors of the people painted with ochre (rusty red), lime (chalky white) and charcoal (jet black) and to see their ornate beaded necklaces, headdresses, armbands and traditional satchel-like bags.  There was also the frenzied activity of the dances and mock battles, the hypnotic sounds of the rhythmic singing and chanting, and the mingling smells of the mangrove mud, the lack of waste treatment, and the pervasive Indonesian clove cigarettes in the air.  The heat was brutal and everyone gratefully headed back to the ship for lunch at midday.

A "street" in a traditional Asmat Village.

A “street” in a traditional Asmat Village.

 

The kids here love to get their photo taken and then see themselves on the screen of your digital camera.  It's a great way to break the ice and get everyone laughing.

The kids here love to get their photo taken and then see themselves on the screen of your digital camera. It’s a great way to break the ice and get everyone laughing.

The word Asmat means “people of the wood,” or “people of the trees” and it is immediately clear why they came into this name as they eek out a living along the shoreline living within the mangroves.  Their lives are decorated with gorgeous symbolic woodcarvings; especially the tall poles ritually carved for their ancestors known as Bis poles.

People in the Asmat live very simply without many belongings.  In this shot you see the sleeping mat on the floor to the left and a family's few odds and ends.

People in the Asmat live very simply without many belongings. In this shot you see the sleeping mat on the floor to the left and a family’s few odds and ends.

Everywhere we went, the village kids followed us waving and laughing, and about 30-40 kids either paddled out to the ship in small hollowed out log canoes, or swam out nearly half a mile against a strong current to reach the ship.  They jumped around the Zodiacs tied off the marina deck, did flips into the water, and accepted pastries and chocolates from the ship’s crew.

These were the first few kids to visit us.  Before long there were many, many more hanging around.

These were the first few kids to visit us. Before long there were many, many more hanging around.

The local kids were incredibly respectful of our boats and belongings, and never tried to take advantage of the situation or steal anything.  I was really impressed with their behavior, open friendliness, and not least of all by their fitness and ability to swim, paddle canoes while standing up, haul themselves up into boats and hop around from boat to boat.  I watched kids pulling in fishing nets from open canoes and collecting little silver fish for dinner or for the market, and everywhere along the shore they were swimming or playing in the water.  These are clearly natural water people.  Most kids in the western world would have seriously struggled to keep up.

A girl and her little brother pull up a fishing net from their dugout canoe.

A girl and her little brother pull up a fishing net from their dugout canoe.

 

 

Asmat Kids on the River Bank

Asmat Kids on the River Bank

The next day, after more slow travel up a second river system with the Zodiacs feeling out the bottom and finding our way out in front of the ship, we came to another remote village known as Awer.  We spent a second day in the Asmat visiting the village and then using the Zodiacs to explore small side tributaries into the deep recesses of the mangrove forest.  The highlights of the Zodiac cruise included watching hundreds of white Imperial Pigeons fly overhead heading home to roost for the night, and finding creeks lined with arching red mangrove trees and filled with the sounds of strange bird calls.  Just before heading back to the ship, my boat found a couple of tall trees with a Collared Kingfisher and Rainbow Bee Eaters hunting and settling in for the evening.  I feel very privileged for having had the opportunity to visit this part of the world.  It is very remote and difficult to access and the people here know time, and have a sense of place that is very different to my own existence.

Sunset over the Asmat village of Agats.  Life in and amongst the mangrove trees.

Sunset over the Asmat village of Agats. Life in and amongst the mangrove trees.

Tasmania: Part 2

From Hobart, we sailed 119 nautical miles to Wineglass Bay on the Freycinet Peninsula.  Wineglass Bay has been voted one of the top ten beaches in the world with fine white sand and crystal clear waters surrounded by wild eucalyptus forest known everywhere in Australia as, “the bush.”  Wineglass Bay is relatively pristine and visited by only a few thousand visitors each year, because is it only accessible by boat, or a one-hour strenuous hike up and over a set of mountains called The Hazards.

Southeastern coast of Tasmania.

Southeastern coast of Tasmania.

I woke early for a sunrise zodiac cruise around the rocky coast of the long, narrow bay. We cruised the coastline in our small boats as large swells rose and fell against the sloping rock faces nearby.  As the sun warmed the 400 million year old granite walls, they began revealing their bright orange streaks with shades of red and pink breaking through the rock.  The warm colors in the rock were in stunning contrast to the greens of the bull kelp and blue waters of the bay.

The ship in the distance on our sunrise zodiac cruise.

The ship in the distance on our sunrise zodiac cruise around Wineglass Bay.

In the afternoon I hiked from Wineglass Bay, over The Hazards mountain range, to Coles Bay on the opposite side of the peninsula.  Meanwhile, the ship pulled up anchor and sailed 24 kilometers around the southern end of the Freycinet Peninsula to Coles Bay to meet us.  The views of Wineglass Bay from the top of the pass were postcard perfect.

The stunning view of Wineglass Bay on the Freycinet Peninsula, Tasmania.

The stunning view of Wineglass Bay on the Freycinet Peninsula, Tasmania.

The next morning brought pink skies off Maria Island, separated from the Tasmanian mainland by the Mercury Passage.  Maria Island is the site of a prison settlement that dates back to 1821.  By the early 1830s the site was too expensive to maintain, so the convicts were returned to the mainland.  After that, whalers, sealers, farmers and smugglers moved onto the island.  Today, all that remains of these early European settlers are the ruins of the prison encampment and a cement factory where the prisoners worked.   However, Maria Island is currently home to some amazing wildlife including reintroduced animals like forester kangaroos, Bennnett’s wallabies and Cape Barren geese that had been wiped out after European occupation of the island.

Cape Barren Geese on Flinders Island.  An endemic species found only on Tasmania -- the only species in its genus.

Cape Barren Geese on Flinders Island. An endemic species found only on Tasmania — the only species in its genus.

Rock columns at the summit of Bishop & Clerk with the Tasman Sea beyond.

Granite rock columns at the summit of Bishop & Clerk with the Tasman Sea beyond.

I reached the highest point on the island via an ambitious hike to the Fossil Cliffs (sandstone cliffs loaded with fossils) and on, to the summit of Bishop and Clerk Mountain. It was a long hard climb through grassy fields, eucalyptus forest, over rocky scree and finally a scramble over boulders at the summit.   As our small group hiked, we encountered birds like the amazingly noisy kookaburra, lizard-like skinks, a bandicoot and even an echidna (Students, look up the echidna – it’s one of only three species of egg laying mammals in the world).  The summit provided fabulous views out over the bay with our tiny little ship anchored way, way out in the distance.

The view from the top of Bishop and Clerk Mountain.  Unbelievably clear.

The view from the top of Bishop and Clerk Mountain on Maria Island. Unbelievably clear.

Our last stop in Tasmania was Flinders Island off the north east coast.  The community of about 700 people there doesn’t get a lot of visitors so they pulled out all the stops for us.  For many years, sealers dominated Flinders Island and it was a pretty lawless place.

The gorgeous sandy beach at Trousers Bay on Flinders Island.

The gorgeous sandy beach at Trousers Bay on Flinders Island.

A young wallaby on Flinders Island.  It was orphaned when it's mother was hit by a car.  A local saved the joey and is raising it and feeding it by bottle.

A young wallaby on Flinders Island. It was orphaned when it’s mother was hit by a car. A local saved the joey and is raising it and feeding it by bottle.

Today, people earn money by raising sheep and cattle that are sold and shipped to Victoria on the mainland.  For our visit, the locals set up craft stalls for us selling local goods, as well as a barbeque with wallaby sausages, abalone fritters and fresh local lobster.  I have to say, the wallaby sausage was delicious!

The road into the town of Whitemark on Flinders Island.

The road into the town of Whitemark on Flinders Island.

I hope I have a chance to return to Tasmania to further explore this diverse island above and below the sea — it’s an incredible place.

Thanks to my friends and colleagues on the Caledonian Sky for the photos and information that went into this blog, especially to Judith Black.

Tasmania: Part 1

Hobart, Tasmania.  After four days on the ship and in Zodiacs without stepping onto dry land, I was pretty much chomping at the bit to put my feet down on terra firma.  Since leaving New Zealand and heading west across the Tasman Sea, our first opportunity to do this to was arriving at the island of Tasmania, Australia.  The Tasman Sea lies in an area known as the “Roaring Forties” – an area between the 40 and 50 degree latitudes in the Southern Hemisphere where strong westerly winds blow.  (Students, I dare you to get out your globe or jump on Google Earth to see where this is!)  The Roaring Forties were true to their reputation, and we had heavy broadside seas and strong winds for two days straight coming across the Tasman Sea, but it could have been much worse.

The Tasman Sea well within the Roaring Forties.

The Tasman Sea well within the Roaring Forties.

Finally, on our morning of arrival, I woke up early to watch the sunrise over Tasmania, the 26th largest island in the world and the most mountainous state of Australia.  It was a cloudy morning though, as our ship passed the famous dolerite organ pipes of Cape Raoul, and steamed through Storm Bay to arrive alongside in Hobart; the state capital.

Sunrise and our view from the ship of the famous dolerite organ pipes of Cape Raoul as we sailed towards Storm Bay and the city of Hobart.

Sunrise and our view from the ship of the famous dolerite organ pipe rock formations of Cape Raoul as we sailed towards Storm Bay and the city of Hobart.

Our ship came alongside in Hobart just outside of the old port area of the city known as Salamanca.  The Salamanca neighborhood dates back to the 1830’s when the market area was the hub of Hobart’s trade and commerce activities.  Today the quarter has undergone a total revamp and is populated with lively bars, cafés and restaurants.

Hobart the capital city of Tasmania

Hobart, the capital city of Tasmania

Some of the market tradition lingers, and I managed to wake up early the next morning, before all of the day’s activities, and head into the famous Saturday Market in Salamanca.  I was there very early, but even so, stalls were setting up and selling hot coffee and breakfast goodies.  With a delicious coffee in hand, I strolled up and down the long aisles of stalls that run right down the middle of two or three of Salamanca’s main streets.  It was mind boggling how much stuff was for sale there – from hand tooled leather goods to homemade jams, and from creative model cars to organic veggies – the market has it all.  It’s just amazing and I could have spent the whole morning there.

Model cars for sale in the Hobart Saturday Market.

Model cars for sale in the Hobart Saturday Market.

Later in the day I had a chance to drive 22 kilometers up to the top of Mount Wellington at 1,270 meters.  The wind picked up and the temperature dropped several degrees, but it was well worth my tangled hair-do to see the breathtaking view across the city and surrounding lands, as well as into bays and coves far beyond.  To a person, everyone up on that mountain was stunned into silence by the contrasting colors in the rocks and vegetation at our feet, and out to the cityscape, blue ocean bays, and crystalline skies above.

A panoramic view from the top of Mount Wellington looking down at the city of Hobart.

A panoramic view from the top of Mount Wellington looking down at the city of Hobart.

National parks and reserves account for approximately 37% of Tasmania’s land mass.  In Tasmania you find extremely diverse vegetation, from tall evergreen eucalypt and alpine forests in the high elevations, to the sea level marshes and dunes.  Sixty percent of the plants in Tasmania can be found no-where else on earth and there is abundant endemic wildlife above and below the sea.  (Students, you should look up the definition of “endemic” if you don’t already know it – email me about an endemic species in your region if you want – go to http://www.kitvanwagner.com/ask-a-question/ to send me info about your endemic animal or plant).

On top of Mount Wellington.  Taking it all in!

On top of Mount Wellington. Taking it all in!

The marine life in Tasmania is equally as phenomenal, but not as well protected.  Tasmania makes up just 0.9% of Australia’s land area, but holds 8.2% of the nation’s coastline due to the highly convoluted coast line, a number of estuaries, and its 6,000 surrounding islands.  Marine organisms are so highly specific to Tasmania and nowhere else on earth, that 49 marine species are threatened or endangered.  However, only about 1% of the state’s coastal water are protected from fishing — areas known as “no-take” reserves.  In my next blog I will show you more about the east coast of Tasmania as we left Hobart and sailed further north into warmer climes.

Until then…fair winds everyone.

Thanks to my friends and colleagues on the Caledonian Sky for the photos and information that went into this blog, especially Judith Black.