So here I am again, for what will probably be my last tour in Papua before I (hopefully) get my upgrade to Captain. It was good to get a couple of weeks off after the last tour as I worked a lot of hours and was pretty exhausted by the end of it. Bali was a nice break and then after sorting out my paperwork and getting my Indonesian Licence (Finally!) I got back on a plane to head back to Biak, Papua. Arriving on Garuda was subject to the usual fears of 'Will I get there', 'If I do, will I be in one piece', but to be fair, the runways they had to aim for were super long and so I sat back and let Indonesia's finest do their job.. I landed safely, twice at the same airport, after a fairly short bounce!
So there I was, in Biak waiting for my ride to Nabire and then for 6 weeks of what may end up being another tour of hours galore. I was able to pull rank to get myself a decent room in the house and that felt good! I don't consider myself to be mean, but if you saw the hotel here you would forgive me for ousting the 47 year old new guy from his temporary accommodation to go sample the delights! I have been here longer and so seniority rules. (For the record, I have been shifted to lessor rooms back in my early days so it's all part of the game) We have to make the most of what we have in Papua as the entertainment is non-existent outside, hence a few BBQ's and a couple of beers now and again!
As I've said previously, in Nabire we get to do some mountain flying and this is truly some of the most breathtaking you will ever experience. Landing on a 600m gravel 'road' on the ridge of a 7,000ft mountain, having to use max braking and full reverse on the engine just so you can stop comfortably is something you just have to experience. Then making a landing at another 7,000ft high strip, which has an upslope way beyond anything that is usually acceptable, and then having to add power just to get up to the parking area is very un-natural! The people you meet in these remote places are very unique too. Lots of dependency on the goods that we bring (The eggs for instance are always in demand and can fetch up to $1 each! Gold, pah, Chicken produce is where the money is in Papua!) and so they are always keen to see you come in. I still find it quite odd that a guy can roll up to your aircraft with no shoes on his feet, stinking like a partly decomposed animal, eroded teeth reddened by the beetle-nut he's been chewing for a few hours and his clothes ripped to shreds, only to ask you where you're going. He then pulls out upwards of $500 from his cow-skin bag and proceeds to pay almost $100 to get onboard! The single event unfolding in front of me still doesn't match up! Anyway, this is Papua, so very, very different to Camden.
I did my fair share of routine flying in Nabire too, which involves going to and from a couple of places for the entire day, but was due to pack my bags and head back over to Manokwari again shortly. This is the place where a lot of my hours were done on the last tour and hopefully they would start racking up again once I arrived... I wasn't wrong!
I've only beed here a week but have already done more hours than I would have at any other base in a month and I'm having trouble keeping my log-book up to date! That is becomming a second job just on its own! (But a good one!) We also have to provide our own entertainment here, but the indonesian staff are much more open to us here and so we invited them in for a night of BBQ'd food and a couple of beers!
I had a good day out with the base manager where we had to fit in some government-charter flights to a place I had been to once before on a field finding misssion. Initially the airfield was covered with a very low lying cloud base that made the whole place look like it was straight out of Jason and the Argonaughts. Very eerie and immensley difficult to even find the field, let alone land there. I don't have pictures unfortunately as we had to concentrate way too much on staying alive! (The one below is from an airfield we went to later on - Still in the soup but at least we could see the ground this time!)
This was to be my first ever necessary diversion in an aircraft and the diversion field was not in too much of a better state than the inital one, but we had enough of a visual to get in and wait for the cloud to lift. I wasn't worried at any stage, but it was nice to get on the ground this time.
After waiting 30 mins or so it was time to head to the original destination and drop off our 'executives'. (I put that in quotes as everyone who can afford a uniform seems to be an executive in Papua) We have a book that has been written by the missionaries who first came to the town to spread their words of Jesus and they clearly state 'Crowd control is a big problem'... Great! True to their word, it was. We flew overhead to let them know we were coming in to land and hundreds of people just sat on the runway looking up at us like we were a UFO!
Luckily they shifted by the time we were on final approach and the landing was uneventful. The important people got off and then the show began! We were ultimately grounded as a patrol of Papuan war dancers began slowly doing their thing up the 900m strip - from the other end! Lots of paint, spears, big loopy earrings and straw skirt clad people danced up and around the aircraft and then the time came to leave. I have video, but again, Papuan internet is too slow to upload.
Airborne again, with the rest of the day being pretty standard, although long, with a small pit stop in the 'VIP' room, Indonesian style!
And a whiff of oxygen can always help!
Landing at Papuan airports can be quite an experience depending on the people you are bringing in. If they happen to be 'important' such as they example above then you seem to always get a group of traditional dancers ready to welcome people.. Here's some I met earlier!
So while all of this was going on I have managed to see Englands miserable attempt at playing football, heard that my sister got engaged, my friend got engaged (Not to my sister!), I have a friend coming over to visit and have a very long holiday in Indonesia, my parents are going to be in Thailand and that Nathan, one of my friends from university got a job here too! He started this week and seems to be enjoying Indonesian life... Ha ha, things will change soon! Medan is coming.
I've included some random pictures here which don't really need explaining, but the one of the guy in the 'mobile office' really makes me laugh!
Hope you are all well!