CASKE 2000

IRIAN JAYA A LAND OF CONTRAST, MYSTERY AND ADVENTURE

BY JEAN-PHILIPPE SOULÉ ©

   ... My first visit to Irian Jaya took me to the northwestern peninsula that the locals call the "Bird’s Head". I met a local, the son of an Indonesian and a Dutch missionary. He had studied in Holland and America, had worked as a journalist and then dropped out of society and returned to the jungle. A medicine man, survivalist and deeply spiritual man, he told me the first time I met him that he had been waiting for me - that he had had a vision of my arrival. He took me under his wing for a month, showed me edible and poisonous plants, taught me to hunt bats, parrots and lemurs, and how to survive in a hostile new environment. ...

   ... I took with me the strict essentials. I figured I could always sleep outside or build a shelter if needed. Also, I wanted to minimize the impact I had on people I met. ...

   ... After walking for three days through mountains and jungles eating what I gathered and scrounged from the previous village, I ran out of food and started to worry. I had no idea where I was. For all I knew, I could have been an hour or weeks from a village. I didn’t know when I would meet up with anybody. Food was definitely my biggest challenge. I was always on the go, so I couldn't set any traps. I wasn’t a good trapper anyway. I didn't have any hunting equipment, and my knowledge of local edible flora was very limited. I couldn't find many of the plants I had learned to feed on with the Mentawais. Until now, I had optimistically relied on the hope that I would probably come across a village within a couple of days. The following day, I was at a loss and almost decided to backtrack. Doubts started to transform my great adventure into a nightmare. ...

   ... If it wasn’t for the smoke escaping from the roof of a few huts, I would have believed it was abandoned. I walked with a strong feeling of being observed by thousands of eyes. As I stopped in front of the central hut, I was suddenly welcomed by people aiming their arrows and spears at me. All silent and careful, they jumped all around me, slowly getting closer. Although they were just a few dozen men, It felt like I was surrounded by hundreds ...

   ... I returned to the States to face a counter cultural-shock - I was home, but I couldn’t call it home anymore. The marks Irian Jaya made on my body faded, but the impressions which began with the Mentawai tribes in Sumatra remain etched in my mind.

Cover Story featured in Wilderness Way Magazine, January 98.
We will post the full Story in August 99. Don't miss it!

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Central American Sea Kayak Expedition 2000

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