Expedition Leader &
This morning, November 1, I did not have any urgent business to take care of, so I stayed in bed till 8 a.m. At eight I got a text message from Yekaterinburg from mother, who asked me for a photo of an exotic Dorian fruit (it was 3 a.m. Yekaterinburg time). To prevent the exotic fruit from stealing my mother's sleep, I went to a local market in the morning, but, as ill luck would have it, there was no Dorian fruit among the exotic abundance on sale that day. It seemed the locals cleaned out the entire stock of Dorian fruit due to the upcoming Halloween (by the way we also attributed yesterday's power outage in Nabire to Halloween).
On our way to the market, Bob and I discussed the latest news - the other helicopter pilot was staying incommunicado, with his cell phone not responding for two days. The captain still promised to be in Nabire on the third of November, but the option involving the Kamov helicopter would not work out in all probability, as there had been no updates about it for too long. We decided to keep sending the pilots messages, reminding them that their bonuses were shrinking with each day that we are spending in Nabire.
Yesterday our team decided to give up on the trekking idea entirely and instead focus all our attention and efforts on the helicopter option. The fact is that with the inauguration of a new governor tensions between the local authorities and separatists flared up in the vicinity of Ilaga, so now the government is cautioning tourists against trekking to the base camp for the time being.
Until lunch we had been discussing lists of gear that we would need at the base camp and ways to minimize it so that everything would fit into the helicopter. Doing the entire math, we agreed that our backpacks should not be heavier than 15 kg (including common gear). Then everybody retired to their rooms to pack their backpacks and weigh them in order to get an approximate idea of what of their personal possessions would fit their 15-kilo limit. Volodia and I finished this procedure before everybody else and left for the supermarket to buy weighing scales after hearing out Grigory's five-minute lecture on what scales and of what brand would be the best buy. In fact it turned out there was only one set of weighing scales in all of Nubire. Volodia, who spotted it on a dusty shelf, sadly informed me that not only were they of a brand different from the ones recommended by Grigory, it was also broken. I inquired what made him decided it was broken. Volodia answered by stepping on the scales and saying in dismay that he weighed 80 kilos while the scales showed a whole lot more - 90 kg! Having decided that this was not much of a problem, as we could subtract the 10 kilos calibrated by Volodia from the readings, we still bought the scales. Later on I also decided to measure my weight and was surprised to see that the device was quite accurate and that I had already lost 2 kilos during this expedition. For the time being I decided not to disappoint Volodia that from this moment he would have to get accustomed to the figure of 90 kilos and postponed the backpack weighing until the next day.
After lunch we stopped at a local bank, making sure the Indonesian rupee exchange rate did not collapse overnight but stayed at about the same level where it had been a week ago. In case of a sudden currency crash, I would hate to be left with a pile of local currency we got ourselves in Jakarta. Nonetheless, we noticed that the exchange rate was climbing slightly and that we had already lost a fair amount because of this. So we needed to spend the local currency here instead of having it converted back into our currency. As a backup option we decided to lease a charter flight to the community of Wamena (incidentally, the former base of the Kamov helicopter that is now stationed in Jayapur). Wamena is famous for giving tourists a genuine exotic Papuan experience - semi-wild tribes wearing only groin protection, jungle, hunting, wild boar feast and so forth. Tomorrow at 6 a.m., Bob and I will try to book this charter at the airport.
On our way from the bank we were surprised to find an outdoor-gear store on one of Nabire streets - trekking boots, backpacks, Gortex jackets have made it all the way here. Despite the fact that, but for the hitchhiker Mark, we are the only white people to visit this place over the last few months.
In the evening we stopped at a small studio in time for a rehearsal of a local rock band. First they performed several Indonesian hits and then asked us to play something authentically Russian. To the accompaniment of drums and bas, Grigory performed Britney Spears' hit "Oops, I did it again", getting a round of applause from viewers who were peaking through windows in large numbers. Then I added a bit more of the "Russian" creative heritage, performing Bob Marley's "No woman, no cry". Grigory was in good shape that evening, and the audience finally heard us perform a Russian hit "O chiom poyot nochnaya ptitsa" [Nocturnal bird's song] in authentic Russian. Then everybody had us posing for photos for a long time, but nobody asked for our autographs. We decided not to take offence, but instead sneakily slapped the Seven Summits Club sticker on the studio door.
Overall, our first Papuan Saturday turned out quite eventful. If we also manage to spend a day in Wamena tomorrow, we will definitely deserve a fat checkmark in our calendar for this weekend.
Reporting from Papua, Sergey Kofanov
P.S. A few hours after this report, Sergey Kofanov sent a text message that they managed to get an airlift. So far to Wamena...