Farewell to Manokwari: Into The Jungle

It’s time to leave this city…

After months of languishing in boredom here in Manokwari, I’ve finally found a guide to take me into the rainforests.

The island I’ve found myself on is unique in that the temperature here rarely drops below 25 degrees. Sitting right on the equator, these islands enjoy a perennial heat that refuses to give up. Combine this heat with the complex humidity and high pressures of the Phillippine Sea and you have the perfect recipe for a tropical storm.

Thick drops of rain hammered the tin roofs of Manokwari’s poorly built suburbs, as I packed my bags for the off. I’d taken the precaution of paying my landlady 6 months advanced rent, so that I could be sure of a place to stay, should I be forced out of the jungle at an unexpected moment.

What few possessions I had: clothes, camera lenses, satellite phone, were rammed into my rucksack as I locked the flimsy door behind me and dropped the door key into a well thumbed copy of Milton’s Paradise Lost – even the most deluded of backpackers would think twice before picking up that long slog of a book.

I nodded to the landlady as I pulled my new hat on to my head.

For some reason, the entirety of Manokwari had become besotted with these fedoras. Whether it was a new fashion trend or perhaps a cultural fad, I truly didn’t know – but it seemed like everybody from rickshaw drivers to business men were wearing these old-school cowboy hats.

Only a few feet lay between my awaiting rickshaw and the front door of what had been my home for 3 months. A wall of water streamed off the choked gutters and I resigned myself to the inevitable saturation that I was about to receive. Pulling the hat down, so I could at least keep my face wet, I stormed through the door and into the waiting rickshaw.

I’d met Manu on an ill-fated research trip to the town’s only University.

The University of Papua has one of it’s three campuses in the provincial capital. It was my 3rd week in Manokwari and I’d come to the conclusion that the learned men from the UoP would be my best bet for getting in touch with a guide – in some ways I was right.

My journey into the University of Papua’s Biology department was not successful. The receptionist’s face was an immovable wall. She was not impressed by my fancy English University credentials, she did not like my shabbily dressed appearance and she appeared to find my scent somewhat noxious. I must’ve waited for something like an hour before she curtly informed me that the professor would be out for the rest of the afternoon. She smiled a sickly smile as I left and almost crashed into a student carrying a large stack of papers.

The receptionist began to immediately berate the confused lad, causing a violently gesticulated spat to ensue for a couple of minutes.

By the time they had finished cursing at each other in their native tongue, I’d helped the lad re-stack the papers. The argument ended on a decisive back and forth basis, as we both backed out of the room – needless to say, the receptionist was no longer smiling.

As I left the building, Manu, for that was his name, caught up with me and spoke to me in English, asking me if there were anything that he could do for me. He bitterly complained about the unfair hours that he had to work for the University and told me about his plans to become a tour guide.

My ears pricked up at this and I asked him if he knew of someone who could take me through the forests, to an English-funded research base somewhere in the murk. He told me that not only did he know the local forests by the back of his hand, but he also had an idea about where this base might be. We shook hands on a fee and settled to leave in a fortnight.

That fortnight had flown by in an instance. Days spent planning routes and preparing ourselves with jungle survival gear had bonded us – it now felt like we were planning an escape from the city rather than incursion into one of the densest rain forests in the world.

As rain water slipped off his fedora, Manu grunted and the rickshaw shunted off through the sheets of rain – our journey had begun.

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