Islands. Ocean. Mangos.

This is a long over-due post on geography. First, here is Indonesia, as seen from very high up:

I had no idea how hard it would be to find a decent map of Indonesia. "Irian Jaya" is another name for Papua.

There are roughly 17,508 islands in Indonesia, depending on the tides. About 6,000 are inhabited. I have been to five islands, so far: Java, the Big Island (Papua), Biak, Debi and Bali. By this time next week, I’ll have added Lombok and Gili Air, and soon after that, Sulawesi. So I’ll only have 17,500 left to go.

I’ve decided that vacation time and funds should be based on the number of islands in the country of service. (We currently get 10 days and $0. I’m proposing ten minutes and $.50 per island, which would bring us to 121 days and $8,754.)

From East to West Indonesia stretches across 3,000 miles. The country lies right across the equator, from five degrees North to eleven degrees South. And it’s HOT. It’s almost exactly like living in a sauna.

There are over 240 million people living in Indonesia, making it the fourth largest country in the world, by population.

Interestingly, when my dad went to the bank to get some Rupiah before coming to visit, they didn’t have much to give him, because it’s an “exotic currency.” If anyone ever tries to tell you that, now you can let them know how many people in the world use it everyday. I’m sure your banker will be very impressed.

When I first came to Indonesia, I was in language school in Salatiga, Central Java for two months. That is 2,110 miles away from where I live now, and depending on the airline, three or four flights. It is possible to fly to Papua during the day, but I never have. It can make for a long night.

There are 5 other people in my program here in Indonesia, and we are called YALTers. Febby lives in Papua too, only about a 5 minute walk away. Erika, Seto, Cornrad and Boston live in Central Java, and the six of us have only been reunited one time so far this year. It’s sad, but we always take really cute pictures when we’re together, so we make the best of it, I suppose. And Febby and I really are very fortunate to live so close together, as we have our own island and don’t make it out to Java regularly, and we live much closer together than any of the others.

The YALTers. We look so good.

Java and Papua are very different. Java is small, and very densely populated – over 1,000 people per square kilometer – and it holds about 80% of the nation’s population. Papua, on the other hand, is largely untamed, mountainous jungle, and has a population density of about ten people per square kilometer. To give you a comparison, the population density of Washington state is 34.2 people per square km.

In Java it is possible to drive everywhere and there are also trains, buses and planes. Actually, it’s possible to drive or take a bus from Lombok, in Central Indonesia, to the Northwestern tip of Sumatera,  a distance of about 1,733 miles. It’s not possible to drive between most places in Papua, but I will get to that in a minute.

While Papua is completely fabulous, Java does have one very important thing that Papua does not have: rice paddies. I usually eat rice twice a day, and everyone else here eats it at least that often, if not more, but Papua imports all its rice from Western Indonesia. And why is that important? Rice paddies are phenomenal. If you haven’t frolicked in a rice paddy in the early morning light, you haven’t really lived.

This is a view of Papua, from not as high up:

I currently live as far East as you can go and still be in Indonesia – except for a few towns and villages between here and the border. The island is split between Indonesia and Papua New Guinea. Papua was a colony under the Dutch, as was the rest of Indonesia, and Papua New Guinea was a British colony, a protectorate of Australia, and they speak English there. Papuan people who are in their 60s or older speak Dutch (as well as Bahasa Indonesia, and other local languages) because they spoke Dutch in school as children.

I live in Abepura, which is part of the city of Jayapura. This whole part of the island is considered Jayapura, and while Papua is allegedly the second largest island in the world, I might as well live on a small island, because the roads here only go so far. I found out last week, when I bought a wall map of Papua, that the road actually does go as far as Sarmi, which would take a day to get to, crossing rivers at different points along the road. (I want to go to the end of the road SO MUCH. I just need to find someone who likes to drive far just for the sake of adventure).

Various parts of the island are very isolated. To get to any other part of Papua from here, you have to either take a boat, or fly. I’ve taken the boat to Biak, which was a good experience – although I definitely recommend going first class over economy. Economy involves staking out a place to sleep on the ground, overnight. To take the boat from Java to Jayapura takes six days.

Soon, I hope to go to Wamena, the largest city up in the interior, which is a mountainous area, and you have to fly to get there. The highest mountain in Oceania is there: Puncak Jaya, which is 5,050 meters tall, and even though it is five degrees south of the equator, it has ice at the top. I hear that Wamena is cold, and really beautiful. I can’t wait to go – I’m taking two jackets, and I just might stay forever.

Back in the day – the early part of the 20th century – no one from outside of the interior had ever been up there. For example, exploration of one area by white people started when three lakes were  seen from a plane flying over, and the Dutch decided to create a settlement there. Then to return to the site, explorers hiked up from the coast, through the jungle to make contact with isolated tribes. I like hiking, but I’m glad we use planes now.

Basically, Papua is like the tropical version of Washington State – it has mountains, lakes, ocean, it’s really green and rains a lot. Yes, I would describe living here as “tropical fabulous,” and the mango juice is superb, although mangos are not always in season, which is confusing, because we don’t have seasons.

So that’s what I have for you today. Feel free to ask any and all questions, and you should know that you can always make requests for blog topics.

This post is dedicated to Ash – fellow geography and map enthusiast.

1 Comments on “Islands. Ocean. Mangos.”

  1. LOVE the 10 minutes, 50 cents comparison, and I’m in complete and total agreement. Make the proposal. Also, fabulous title ;) Way to keep the suspense with the mango reference. And frolicking in the rice paddies… estoy muy celosa! I’ll get there one day (I hope!) <3


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