Indonesia 2013 - 2016
When initially published new entries always ended up at the top so as you read down the page you are moving backwards in time. Purists may wish to start reading from the bottom of this page.
Tue23Aug16 ....sadly I recognise that I have reached the limit of what can be achieved in Papua and still remain alive. Having exhausted my tolerance for the region's unique practices I have decided not to return to Indonesia at the end of this leave and will move on to a new job in Ireland.
A big thank you to my colleagues and friends in Papua for your kindness and support over the past 21/2 years and my best wishes for safe flying and happy landings.
Thanks also for the almost 7000 visitors who shared this adventure to date.
Thu07Jul16 ….almost at the END OF TOUR 8 and very glad to be returning soon to Glasgow.
This Tour has been marred by avoidable aircraft airworthiness problems, organisational chaos and reduced cargo due to government stagnation.
Tribal tensions in the mountains fester and often erupt in airstrip-blocking riots, while the Independence movement have got their hands on more weapons which they are using with gusto.
More problematic is that the arms windfall has also reached local bandits who are busy with the opium harvest, and fire on 'spy' aircraft overflying villages beside airstrips.
…and there is a very fatal epidemic in the more remote valleys which nobody talks about.
Communications in general and internet in particular have been bad, as you would expect when there are problems in the province and the flow of information needs to be reduced.
Sadly also a spate of accidents
and incidents, most caused by human error, lack of proficiency and spectacular
…the one notable exception being proof that you can be a highly skilled, locally experienced, well trained and very careful pilot doing everything correctly and STILL Papua will turn around and bite you. PHOTO
…and it is the end of Ramadan and the start of Idul Fitri - so the entire nation has ground to a halt and everybody is a bit nuts.
Positive highlights include my first commercial loads out of Timika and getting signed off as Captain to land in Sinak, a few cloudless calm days which allowed close overflights at 16,000 ft of the Puncak Jaya, Carstenz Glaciers and the Grasberg Gold Mine. VIDEO
Also some trips to the see the Whale Sharks, various beaches and an incredible jungle waterfall in the Karadiri Forest Plantation. VIDEO
Further piscine thrills were seeing wild examples of fish which we used to retail in our aquarium business …and a yet-to-be-identified-and-photographed 2+meters fish cruising in the shallows of the High or West Lake PHOTO on approach to Ilaga.
I spotted its wake from 1 NM away and could clearly see leisurely strokes of its caudal fin from 750 ft overhead. Other fish were also clearly visible feeding, creating splashes on this normally placid and presumed lifeless ±10,800 ft elevation lake. It has been mooted that is a catfish of the Siluridae family which would match what I saw ….and rumour has it that a missionary pilot seeded the high lakes in the 1980s - but we do not know yet what he threw in. Highland natives say there is a very large, very frightening fish in the river which drains from the High Lake.
Other excitement was a minor earthquake - don’t know what is was on the
Richter Scale but it tipped me out of my bed.
I was also hired out to another company to do Caravan ratings for their new Co-Pilots and Line Training for one of their Captains. PHOTO
Sat16Apr16... on leave in Scotland - suffering a bit in the clear but freezing cold weather under a Siberian High.
Many thanks to the 6000+ visitors
who have shared this experience !
END OF TOUR 7
Sun27Mar16… our Ground Crew happily support my eating regimen …Indonesians love it when you are willing to try local fare …they love it even more as you put on a show when it tastes horrible or need 10 tissues to absorb the spices running out of your nose and eyes.
Our usual day is 3 return flights into the mountains :
Flight 1 I have cheese and fruit juice,
Flight 2 I get a selection of fresh fruit and water and
Flight 3 I enjoy a thermos of coffee and local cakes
(kue - pronounced ‘kwaay’ ...see photo).
With the exception of cheese brought from Scotland, other items are provided in enormous quantities - culturally it would be a matter of national shame if I ran out of food …a happy side effect being that the Ground Crew get the leftovers at the end of the day.
On days when we have heavy items to load or cleaning tasks after flying there are a lot of extra crew …so I get a mountain of food which I take all the way into the highlands and back …and then distribute magnanimously after the last flight.
Again culturally, not a single piece of the ‘leftovers’ will be touched until I hand it over ….but if I take too long doing my paperwork then there are quiet hints of “kue kue” and “kofi boss” which increase in volume and frequency until the goodies are surrendered.
Unfortunately, it is a quiet time of year with not much cargo or passenger traffic …so we are only doing 1 or 2 flights per day.
Whether I do 1 flight or 3, I get/eat the same amount of food …it does not bode well for the next leave rotation that I am fat even before I arrive in the land of McD, KFC and FishSuppers.
Opulence is a sign of wealth and well being in Indonesia and is spoken about without any of the reservations we have in the West …when I return 9 kg heavier after a month’s leave I can expect to hear “you are really fat” - delivered without guile after an appraising look.
However, my Ground Crew are also canny enough to realise that blubber is an issue for a Westerner ….so they amuse themselves with small adjustments to my seat harness making it just tight enough to stress me out …and they fall about laughing when I come back from a flight with the cakes untouched.
[ I have fallen for that three times already …including yesterday ]
Fri25Mar16… Good Friday could have been better …frustrations galore during flights into the highlands with pigs and passengers in very cloudy weather.
It does not help that I am now on day 73 of a 60 day tour with correspondingly less tolerance.
On the other hand, the MAF families graciously invited me to a very relaxing and enjoyable Easter Celebration dinner.
A little background : as a personal rule I do not take passengers in the co-pilot seat, exceptions being known persons or a doctor or similar who speaks some English.
Anyone else is impossible to communicate with as well as being naked and unpredictable under stress …frightened Papuas will grab controls and/or pilot during turbulence.
Also, we insist that passengers have proper seats rather than putting them on the floor as was the norm two years ago
…so if we have an all-cargo load going IN we do not take passengers OUT
- although we do encourage forward planning and the highlanders will ask us to bring seats which are then fitted after the cargo is unloaded.
Within local culture “NO” means “let’s negotiate” with the same request being rephrased with differing enticements …my personal record is 17 times ...before I walked away.
That same culture allows “5 adults with small bag” to equal 5 adults, 3 teenagers, 3 toddlers, 2 babies, 150 kg of vegetables, 10 chickens, 2 pigs and assorted weapons.
One time I agreed and took payment for 1 elderly man …and they tried to board him and his 5 adult sons and daughters.
When [almost] all else fails out comes the sympathy card …there is always someone sick or bereaved who needs to come back to the big city …and could they preeze preeze preeeeeeeze x 17 come ?
…and finally, when all else HAS failed, some airstrips will sneak passengers and cargo on board …so you develop a habit of physically checking the cargo pods, looking under seats and counting heads after the doors are closed …and 10% of the time you will get a surprise.
My trusting nature evaporated permanently about a year ago when I fell for deliberate distractions and forgot to check the belly pods …the extra 350 kg they had sneaked on board made for an interesting departure off a 600 m runway at 13,000 ft density altitude with an 8 knot tailwind.
Did I say “a little backround” ? Sorry about that …..
Anyway, today at Ilaga I had 1 passenger seat available and there were 2 passengers.
“One …a woman with broken leg, and Two …a man whose mother is dead today.”
It being Good Friday and we were probably the only flight in that day I wavered, emotionally moved by the passengers’ reasons for travel …and thought that with a broken leg the woman would probably want to lay down anyway leaving the bereaved man to use the seat.
OK ….let’s do it.
There she is, all smiles carrying a heavy bag and an infant, walking to the aircraft.
HOLD IT !!!!
!!! Why did you tell me the woman had a broken leg ?
More amazement ...what, you actually believed that ?
Oh bugger …now the bule (boolay = white guy) is upset.
Where is the man ?
Selamat Pagi Om (Uncle) …I am sorry to hear about your [no doubt Saintly] mother.
What about my mother ?
She is dead.
No she is not.
!!! Why did you tell me the man had a dead mother ?
Even more amazement …what, you believed that too ?
!!! Motherf%£&()@g lying B~#<>ds !
Bules look funny when they are upset, don’t they ?
Deep breath (actually physically necessary …getting mad at 8000 ft above sea level uses up a lot of oxygen).
As tempting as it was to refuse both passengers the locals just would not have understood, so I took one.
Satu suda penumpang …only 1, you choose which.
Can you take 2 ?
!!! Motherf%£&()@g lying B~#<>ds !
OK OK OK …we do not know what is upsetting you but 1 passenger it is …just to keep you quiet.
The happy lady (with a bandaged toe + bag + infant) boarded without assistance.
You take 2 ya ?
!!! Motherf%£&()@g lying B~#<>ds !
OK OK OK …here is money for 2 passengers - as he tries to manoeuvre me away from the back door so they can sneak they other guy on.
!!! Motherf%£&()@g lying B~#<>ds !
Oh bugger …now the bule is closing the door himself.
OK Happi Eesta Keptin …safe fright.
Happy Easter my Brother …and may a thousand termites nest in your armpits. Photo
The next flight was also frustrating …because a pig was roaming the runway and the airport staff just did not see what the problem was.
Mon21Mar16... two flights today with passengers, shop goods and a motorcycle in beautiful weather.
Things are tense in the mountains so a man with a gun running to intercept us as we taxied after landing caused a reflective moment.
Actually it was a non-event as he was soon recognized as a known local sporting an air rifle ...private citizens in Papua are not allowed firearms so they make up for it with huge, high power air rifles as bling accessories to their usual spears, arrows, axes, clubs and machetes.
For some reason - possibly for effect - he decided to race us to the apron ....and nearly got shot by a tetchy soldier (see the following post). PHOTO
Wed16Mar16... two flights into the mountains in a calm but very rainy Freeway.
On the ground we got talking to the TNI (Indonesian Army) soldier on duty at the airstrip ...eye-catching in that he had what seemed to be excess[ive] ammunition pouches draped all over him. PHOTO
Also unusually ...he has been on duty alone for the last few days - normally there are at least 3 soldiers, 3 paramilitary police and 3 riot police around ...but there has been some shooting in the highlands and one can assume they are off on serious business elsewhere.
Which explains the extra ammunition - if things kick off he will need every round to be able to stand his ground long enough for his back-up to arrive.
A sobering reminder of the extreme tensions which exist just below the surface in Papua.
Sun13Mar16... some interesting flying this week, mainly due to extremes in weather.
Some days the Freeway and mountain airstrips were calm and clear while Nabire had moderate to heavy rain and a 700 ft cloudbase, other days the Freeway was nuts by 1000 local time requiring diversions and climbs to 14,500 ft to avoid the CBs and the worst of the TCs ....and by 1200 the winds closed most of the airstrips.
Holding in poor visibility in the limited space between terrain is fun while coordinating with four other Caravans doing the same thing at the same place ...it look's great once we settle into a routine and everybody follows eachother around the same distorted racetrack - 1 inbound, 1 outbound and 1 in each turn ...then somebody spots an opening, dives in to land and the rest follows ...except that the opening usually closes after a few minutes and the remaining Caravans hold a bit longer.
When starting to hold we use the timer to monitor how long we have left - usually not very long as little excess fuel is carried due to the weight limitations imposed by the high density altitudes and short runways. Typically I would arrive overhead with 750 lbs of fuel remaining which will give me 10 minutes of circling at economy-power and some attempts at landing and missed approaches at guzzle-power ...once the clock shows 10 or the gauges show 700 lbs it is time to RTB so we have enough left to get back to Nabire, then if necessary go to the alternate, and land with 30 minutes of fuel in the tanks.
On Thursday we had one of those days and, having already circled for 8 minutes, I spotted the runway through a large enough gap in the clouds to make the approach (and a safe missed approach if required). On short final one of the pilots already on the ground told me there was a large dog on the runway ...it was so big that I could see it from 3/4 NM away. Happily it moved off the runway and I was able to land ...but had it not shifted then I would have gone around ...then ran out of time during the missed approach and had to RTB.
The dog, and later its owner, were captured and brought to the airstrip where it was impressed upon them that had an RTB been necessary the dog would have been given to the pilot for his dinner and the owner would have been billed for the fuel used for the trip back to Nabire.
Low cloud and bad visibility in Nabire does not present big problems, other than the terrain which in IMC requires Lowest Safe Altitudes of 6500' at 15NM, 4000' at 10NM and 3000' at 1NM - there is usually a gap in the clouds over Nabire so once visual you can spiral down to the runway. If not visual then we have a GPS based cloudbreak procedure for an approach to the runway from over the sea.
BTW there are some more photos ...none of the dog but one of his friend the pig.PHOTO
Wed09Mar16... a flight to Bilorai with cement and one to Ilaga with parts for a digger and live pigs (3 x 100 kg tiddlers - my personal record is a 277 kg monster) in very cloudy weather ....but the clouds cleared just enough for us to see the solar eclipse PHOTO.
Sun06Mar16... back in Nabire after my Permits were issued in a record 36 hours. With only 4 nights in Jakarta I barely had time for 2 x PizzaHut, 1 x Pork Schnitzel and 1 x Pork Ribs plus various icecream and doughnuts as well as shopping for food supplies.
It is still the low season for cargo but we had two flights to Ilaga carrying components of a digger which is being transported piecemeal into the Highlands.
Mon29Feb16... in Jakarta to renew Residency and Work Permits. We have good internet in Jakarta so uploading new videos and photos.
Wed17Feb16... two flights into the highlands in very cloudy weather and strong westerly winds. Added a few new photos.
Tue16Feb16... more heavy rain and low cloud delayed our first departure by 2 hours. The flight was supposed to carry passengers and a motorcycle, but the delay was such that we changed mission to prepare for the coffin and family arriving on the scheduled flight so that they could transfer without delay.
The changeover was completed very professionally by our Engineers and Loaders and we were ready for the family and the body of the young woman - another victim of the Yogya university student alcohol poisoning which killed all 36 who were at the party.
20 of the victims were from Papua so there will be more coffins this week ...it is also a massive blow to local communities as an entire generation of educated Papuas is lost.
Delivery in the mountains was a bit tense with 100s of mourners, noisily upset and armed, crowded around the aircraft.
On the second flight we returned with a father and his little son who had broken his arm and needed treatment in Nabire. Not a whimper out of the little guy who seemed to think it was all worth it to get a ride in an aircraft ...and he was not shy to point out in tribal language that his [considerable] suffering could be alleviated by a lollipop from the pilot's personal stash.
Mon15Feb16... heavy rain and low clouds have restricted operations for a few days, but we were able to complete one flight today : a coffin with mourners returning the deceased back to the village.
Apparently two other operators performed the same service today ...and another three coffins are due tomorrow.
I am told this is the result of an alcoholic student party going very wrong in Yogja.
We have one 'Beras' (=government subsidy rice) cargo tomorrow and then return to Nabire to wait for the arrival of the scheduled ATR72 bearing the coffins.
Tue09Feb16... having enjoyed 2 - 3 flights per day until the end of last week, there is now some trouble in the highlands so our main destinations are closed.
No flying yesterday.
Today, having initially been told that all was safe and with the aircraft loaded and prepped ....we were told that Bilorai was closed again. Our loaders maintained their sense of humour unloading the 1200 kg they had just finished loading ....with some assistance from the entire supply of the pilot's lollipops. We are on standby for tomorrow pending confirmation that there are no angry naked armed men on the airstrips.
Lesson of the Day : I have no words to title this one.
I woke up with a blocked nose and some pressure in my sinus so before showering I decided to sit under my towel and inhale some menthol crystals dissolved in hot water.
With a clear head I enjoyed the shower.
Then ....I used the same towel to dry ....transferring the menthol crystals which had been steamed into the towel to every part of my body. 'Hot Flush' does not begin to describe the sensation ....and 10 seconds later I was back under the shower.
Having had only one towel in the room I had to air dry before getting dressed.
Fri29Jan2016…Tour 7 has begun, back in Nabire. The adjustment from Scottish snow at -2°C to +35°C was easier than the adjustment the other way around in when I started my leave in December.
The beginning of the year is always quiet so we are only doing 1 or 2 flights daily into the mountains. We have also begun the Line Training of one of our Indonesian colleague pilots which provides a nice variation from the normal.
End of Tour 6
Sun27Dec15 ...enjoying being home in Glasgow and proper internet. Uploaded the last two photos for 2015. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year !!!
Sat19Dec15...hooray ...hooray ...hooray ! ! !
After 47 days on the ground in a jungle town with nothing to do and my brain slowly turning to mush .....we started flying again last week.
No internet worthy of the name so only posting now.
Wonderful flying into the highlands in challenging weather and creative wind this week ....and [unbelievably] today I depart for Scotland on leave !!!!
Some pics to follow once I get back into good internet.
Wed18Nov15...BORED ...BORED ...BORED ! ! !
Our Company has suffered a number of administrative, cultural and competence lapses - none of which involved our ops here in Papua - but the DGCA has still grounded us here for a while pending paperwork etc.
My last post was almost a month ago and now that I have the time I have no excuse to publish some updates.
I have a few slightly gruesome stories which I hope you will still find interesting ….about the dead.
In Indonesian culture there is no great distinction between the living and the dead ….both are equally included in daily life, family activities, decision making and ceremonies. The strong tradition of care and togetherness within families means your role, rights and responsibilities within that tradition do not change just because you are dead.
From the air I see what look like disorganised shanty towns all over Nabire and other towns. On a car drive we passed a few and I saw they were airy structures of various sizes (from a garden shed to a small house) with concrete foundations and corrugated sheet roofs - when I asked I was told “That is where dead people live”.
It is also normal for family members to be buried in the garden with graves visible from the street ….children playing and families enjoying a meal right beside well maintained mini-mausoleums which sometimes even have their own electricity and water supplies ….and get beautifully decorated and lit up on birthdays and public holidays.
Stopping to speak to a gentleman one day as I walked past his house, I commented on the beauty of his home and his multitude of children (at least 10). Pleased that his virility had been noted he also drew my attention to the graves in the front garden, saying “My Grandparents are looking after them”.
Ghosts are real, tangible and frequently seen ….and make good babysitters.
Another tradition is that the dead are interred in their original village so transporting coffins or bodybags by air across Indonesia happens a lot, usually along with a group of mourners.
The complex logistics of moving human remains by air are compounded by the need for speed in high temperatures, a lack of mortuary services and the limited hours in the day we fly - ops into the mountains usually finish by 1230 local time due to the high winds, thunderstorm build-up and heat.
Not dead yet - these complexities often require some forward planning on the part of the grieving relatives and it is very common that funerary transport is arranged once the unfortunate’s demise has been declared imminent.
So ….we had been booked to fly a coffin with entourage into the mountains except that I noticed normal cargo was being loaded instead. When I asked what had happened to the scheduled coffin the answer was simply “Not dead yet.” The job was completed the next day.
Paperwork - surprisingly little paperwork is required for these sort of flights …but one thing you insist upon is a Death Certificate which clearly states the Cause of Death as something innocuous.
The containers holding the deceased are in no way guaranteed to be properly sealed and the family, often but not always through ignorance, will happily bring a leaking, gassing and highly contagious corpse on board.
Twice in the past year we have refused a coffin because the Death Certificate was missing.
Not dead yet 2 - another common problem is that the dying will use their last gasps to get on board an aircraft so that they might die at home in the mountains - so people surrounded (held upright) by a crowd slowly approaching the aircraft steps arouse suspicion.
The same applies to the very sick (coughing, retching and oozing) who want to leave the mountains and come the bigger hospitals …we sometimes have to refuse them because they do not have the required Medical Certificate covering the spread of infectious diseases.
So the other day we were completing the refuelling for the next flight when there was a commotion in the van in which the 8 passengers were waiting …howling, ululating, crying, thumping, the whole van visibly swaying …grief is a very physical, intense and noisy thing around here.
The dying person whom they had planned to sneak on board had expired right there on the apron. Once they were told that they would not be allowed on board without the correct paperwork the whole lot, with smoking screeching tyres, tore off to the hospital to get the Death Certificate …where the ‘corpse’ apparently came back to life (and was thus disqualified from receiving said Certificate).
By that time our Company had let it be known that we would not be accepting the party on board and the price of their tickets was refunded.
You do not want to have a dying person on board because
1) the other passengers will go nuts and
2) the Papuas are canny and will blame the Company and Pilot for the ‘untimely’ death and claim compensation - this is so common that many Companies will not do MEDEVACs.
However, the story does not end here.
A few hours later the same party in their van arrived back on the apron beside the aircraft of one of the other Companies …and tried their luck again. As we all watched the poor guy died again on the apron …the family went nuts again …the van went off back to the hospital with smoking and screeching tyres …and the chap was finally awarded his well earned Death Certificate.
A third Company finally took him up to his village in the mountains the next day.
Size is important - our Company has learned the hard way to insist that the deceased are first brought to our warehouse instead of straight to the apron because sometimes the coffins turn out to be very heavy beautifully carved ornate sarcophagi which are so enormous that they will not fit into the aircraft.
Other times it will fit but all the seats need to be removed so that it can be slowly and respectfully manoeuvred into position - ‘respectfully’ because you want to avoid having to roll the thing on its side or raise it at a 45° angle with the contents bonking about inside. Once onboard it can then be secured and the seats re-installed …and off we go with an aft CoG.
One of the other Companies had accepted a coffin charter without checking …and 150+ mourners arrived at the aircraft with a 300 kg funerary masterpiece.
The mourners gathered round the hatch to sing a song of farewell along with some dancing, howling and ululating as the coffin was heaved on board …and it would not fit.
Finally it had to be levered out again to the stunned silence of the mourners.
It was repositioned and the loaders tried again (more singing, dancing, howling etc) …but no go.
Out again (silence) In again (singing etc) …several times …and the mourners were losing their sense of humour. For all of us watching the hilarity had also evaporated because such a large group of Papuas under stress can turn into a violent rampaging mob in an instant.
The loaders finally abandoned the effort and the police arrived to force the crowd clear of the aircraft.
After that all the seats and doors were removed from the aircraft and finally after tipping the coffin on its side it was manoeuvred into the aircraft. Some seats were put back in but the relatives had to climb over the coffin to get to them …the flight departed and I am told the unloading was an even bigger nightmare with 100s of mourners nearly ripping the aircraft to pieces.
Mon19Oct15…I begin Tour 6 with a salute to one of our frequent flyers.PHOTO
We regularly transport fighting cocks to/from the highlands along with their owners, attending matches which form part of religious ceremonies (but not gambling, never, no sir) - yet often a prize fighter is worth more than the rest of the cargo.
We carry poultry in various forms (frozen, live, loose, as pets, unintentionally - what is that sound ?) but they are usually entered on to the load sheet simply as ‘ajam’ - and it is left up to the pilot, if he/she so desires, to enquire after the exact physical state of the ‘ajam’.
Fighting cocks, due no doubt to their value as a ceremonial sacrifice, are often listed on a separate line but still as ‘ajam’.
When asked our Ground Crew did not know the English words for ‘fighting cock’ so I was told it was a ‘Battle Chicken’ ….one of whom rose to become regional champion and he flew with us so often that I dubbed him BattleChicken Galactica.
Two days ago I saw the owner again but BCG was conspicuous in his absence ….he had retired unvanquished and had been put out to stud. Unfortunately his enthusiasm in the henhouse did not match his prowess in the ceremonial ring, so instead he was slow-cooked in a tomato, spinach and chilli sauce which the owner assured me was delicious.
Inuictus est, sapidum et.
TOUR 5 HAS BEGUN
Wed22Jul15…greetings from the jungle three weeks into Tour 5 ! The internet has been terrible but I am in a cyber café with a moderate chance of some up- and downloads, so here is a [longish] story and some new photos.
Chubby Checker - our passengers are normally asked to report to our office where they can be corralled in a safe group and …
1) weighed ….in our critically high density altitude environment the cargo load is adjusted to the passenger load to keep us at our maximum take-off and landing weights. Passengers are charged per seat while cargo is charged per kilogram.
2) luggage can be checked. Alcohol and firearms/munitions are totally barred from the highlands unless being carried by military or police. Weapons other than firearms are both traditional and totally welcome ….with the boring pilot insisting that airguns / machetes / spears / clubs / blowpipes / bows&arrows are placed in the cargo pod. Passengers going to visit relatives often bring along live animals and they need to be restrained (to date chickens, ducks, rabbits, piglets, lemurs, pet dogs/birds, fish and small children).
3) then the passengers are loaded into the back of our pick-up truck and brought to the aircraft.
On one such flight we had a single passenger - actually the owner of the 1077 kg cargo who wanted to escort his wares to their destination. The passenger was a short-but-solid chap (108 kg) and as normal he was asked to present himself and his cargo at the office so that their combined weights could be entered onto the load manifest.
What nobody realised was that the poor guy thought his passenger seat was also going to be charged on a per kilogram basis ….so he had not eaten anything since the previous afternoon.
Anyway, if I have several passengers I offer them a lollipop and some fruit in flight which keeps them happy while I delve into my thermos of sugarless Douwe Egbert’s coffee and my box of cakes …this does not sound as rude as it seems.
Culturally the passengers would never expect me to share my food/drink which makes it a really big deal when you offer them a sweet etc. Also, the Indonesians take a ridiculous amount of sugar in their drinks so they are totally not interested in sugarless coffee.
However, on days when I have only one passenger I always start with offering them a lollipop but then feel culturally (mine, not theirs) obliged to offer them a kafé-tidak-gula because I feel uncomfortable drinking/eating in front of them.
It is always a safe bet because the minute they hear tidak gula they lose interest ....often then staring at me while thinking “why would anyone want to drink a coffee without sugar ?”. Except ….
On the day in question I handed our single hefty passenger the box of lollipops so that he could make his selection ….and he took four ….three of which were crunched, chewed and swallowed within minutes.
Then, him being the only other person on board, I made my token gesture of offering him a kafé-tidak-gula ….which he accepted with alacrity. OK, that’s a first, but OK. Now I felt obliged to offer my box containing a selection of 8 cakes ….of which he took 3 ! OK, this is becoming distressing, but OK.
We both enjoyed our coffee and cakes, and when I was ready for my second cup I thought I was safe enough to make another token offer (surely no Indonesian would survive two coffees without sugar ?!?!?!) ….except he happily held out his cup for more. The weight of obligation still on my shoulders led to my offering the box of cakes ….and he took another 3 ….politely leaving the last one and indicating that I should have it !
I had a quiet laugh about it and used the HF radio to give my Ground
Crew prior warning that there would be no leftovers on my return to Nabire !
Wed29Apr15…it has been a while ….so sorry. In fact, I am more than half-way through Tour 4 here in Indonesia ….still having fun but also very much looking forward to my next leave towards the end of May.
Today we are blessed with stable and fast internet so I thought I could post some new photos and stories while it lasts.
Everybody is awaiting the release of this year’s financial package by the government but in the meantime there is not a lot of cargo going into the highlands ….and we are only flying once or twice each day ….usually with a combined passenger and cargo load.
Apart from people (live, dead and MedEvac) our staples are still building supplies, shop goods, rice, pigs and chickens (live and frozen) as well as the mail, money and a surprising number of motorcycles.
Slightly more unusual was a 350 kg safe, medical supplies, school books, uniforms and shoes as well as bales and bales of slippers ….close your eyes and try to imagine a metric ton of flip-flops !
Please board when your row numbers are called - I started my 4th tour by travelling from Jakarta to Ambon on the scheduled service. It was a full flight and we were all bussed out to a remote apron where our 737 and a gaggle of ground staff were waiting.
Once out of the bus : ground staff totally dis-interested, no cones or safety wires ….150 passengers left to find their own way on board.
Most of the passengers from the No. 1 bus had made their way to the front stairs ….but one got lost and got trapped on the other side of the aircraft, calling up to the cabin crew looking down on him from the [also open] door on that side.
My group got out of our No. 2 bus and I headed around the wing for the rear door - appropriate for my allocated seat in the rear.
Other passengers, initially heading for the front stairs (now jammed 3-abreast), spotted me going for the queue-less rear stairs.
They obviously thought I had the right idea ….and in a skirmish line walked under the fuselage and wing, around the undercarriage and engine ….a dozen actually beat me to the stairs.
What happened next ? Yep ….most of the ones using the rear stairs had seats in the front - and vice versa.
By the time I got on board the cabin looked like a pool of eels ….at one point there were people clambering over the seats to get through ! That made the stewardess squawk a bit, but even she did not venture out of the rear galley (where I was also hiding).
Anyway, like most things in Indonesia it was suddenly over and things continued as if it never happened.
Keeping a lid on things - The Aviastar Twin Otter following us on departure from Nabire spotted a Cessna Caravan fuel filler cap laying on the runway. They actually stopped, got out and brought it on board.
As we were the last Caravan to use the runway it seemed logical that it had come off our aircraft, and once airborne they gave us a call.
We were 25 NM out and still climbing, but our fuel state and consumption appeared normal - even with the cap missing our usual ‘less than half tanks’ fuel state would have limited the amount sucked out - so we decided to proceed to destination keeping a close eye on things (and avoiding rain).
Having reached Bilorai without incident, and with the Twin Otter parked beside us, everyone was greatly anticipating a big announcement that indeed our fuel cap is missing ! ….except it wasn’t - and we still do not know whose Caravan it did come from.
There is a photo of me balancing on top of dump truck ….the only way I could get a clear view of our caps without a ladder.PHOTO
‘Battle Chickens’ - fighting cocks. Some of these birds are worth more than the rest of the cargo combined. One prize example has flown with us several times and been dubbed BattleChicken Galactica ….don’t worry, my ground crew also fail to see the humour ….but I think it’s funny.
Hammy-come-back - climbing through 4000 ft on the way to the highlands, one of our larger live porkers (actually only a medium 180 kg) managed to wreck his cage.
He was steadily working his way out when the passenger, with whom Hammy was sharing the cabin, brought the matter to the attention of the pilot ….tapping said pilot on the shoulder with some urgency.
A swift RTB saw the plane, pig, passenger and pilot on the ground within minutes ….a full and frank discussion with the carpenter who built that particular cage followed.
Sat14Mar15...back in Jakarta to start Tour 4.
Mon09Mar15...still in the UK waiting for the Indonesian immigration
renewal paperwork to get sorted ....great to be back home but also looking
forward to starting my 4th tour back in Papua.
I have taken advantage of the [ wonderfully ] fast and stable internet to upload my first attempts at GoPro flying movies ....you can find them under the Videos tab.
Wed21Jan15...uploaded a few photos. Nice flying over the past two days ....all runs to Bilogai delivering urgently needed supplies as the town recovers from the recent unrest. Four return trips in beautiful weather yesterday (5.8 hrs) and three trips today in atrocious weather (4.4 hrs) - all good fun !
Sun18Jan15…I have installed myself in a cyber-café near the hotel and have the luxury of some internet connectivity ….of course some pictures to upload ….and some tales to go with them.
News of Consequence - I have been granted leave and will be back in the UK on 05 February, hopefully staying for more than a month !
After 3½ months in Papua I am really looking forward to a rest, access to Western food and catching up with everybody. Must say that the extremely poor internet and telephone comms these past months has been heavy going ….so Scotland in winter will be a welcome change !
WABL - after further training I have been released to fly as PiC to Ilaga WABL, in the mountains an hour east from Nabire.
Spectacular and challenging, Ilaga sits on a wide plateau 7500 ft above sea level and offers a poorly maintained 603 m sloped [asphalt] runway. Apart from high density altitude you get strong visual illusions and windshear on the approach - also you land uphill and take-off downhill so there is always a tailwind at some point ….the wind curfew halts our operations there by 1030 local time.
You reach Ilaga along the Freeway, then branching off through the Beoga Pass (±9300 ft low point) and descend through gradually narrowing valleys with 13000 ft ridges either side until you come round a corner, getting your first sight of the runway while [kind of] on a right base 500 ft above the threshold elevation - still tame by Papua standards.
There is a lot of traffic ….everybody trying to get their loads in before the wind and weather picks up ….and everybody following similar tracks ….and the terrain often blocs VHF broadcasts so situational awareness is paramount.
For spice Ilaga is tragically renowned for runway and apron incursions by people and pigs, or in my case last week a guy on a motorbike ….I am pleased to report that our Company’s Ilaga-specific Missed Approach procedure from short final does work ….although the 180 kg (yeah) porker I had in the back did not share my enthusiasm.
Dreamstate - a few days ago we had a busy post-flying afternoon and evening updating procedures, creating new route plans with artwork etc. The lack of internet means we arm ourselves with data-sticks and physically go the office to print or store the documents.
Slightly harassed, I had not bothered to change out of my flying clothes.
Heading out from the hotel again, in the dark with my rucksack over my shoulder like I do in the morning when we start the day at 0530, I took an ojek (=scooter with driver for hire) to the office.
I noticed the hotel staff looking at me strangely and our ground crew all stopped and stared as I walked into the compound ….seeing me exactly as I look first thing in the morning made them all assume I was sleepwalking !
The hotel staff even phoned our ground crew to warn them I might be asleep on the back of a scooter going who-knows-where, and when I arrived my crew approached me as they would a sleepwalker ….nice that everybody cares ….but the hotel guys and our crew are still talking about it ….perhaps not entirely convinced.
Following the Guiding Light - as I spoke about in my previous posts, there is a church whose position and design coincide to reflect the morning light and make it uniquely visible from a distance (my record is 100 km).PHOTO
We call it the ‘Church of the Guiding Light’ and decided to take a car drive and try to find it.
Although a wrong turn got us stuck hanging half-off a bad jungle track for 30 minutes, we reached the village of Kali Merah and found its largest building - the Ecclesia Protestant Church ….causing great excitement for the local population.
In brief, the villagers currently have a shack which serves as church/townhall but have been working on the new structure since 2009 ….a slow process because they are completely funding the project themselves. After translation, they were thrilled that their building was visible to all the world and that it served so laudably guiding the aircraft safely home.
Tutup - (=closed). There has been some unrest in the Sugapa area for the past few days. When it kicks off the rioters always block the runway of the local airstrip ….strangely, because ALL their supplies - including most of their food - comes in by air.
Anyway, it means a reduced schedule for us for a while because Bilogai/Sugapa is one of the places we go every day, usually several times. Once the rioters get hungry they run out of steam, clean up the airstrip and then everything goes on as if nothing happened.
Forgot to tell these two yesterday :
Nearly Swallowed - the large brown insect which had moved in under my seat was gently captured and freed with a toss into the air.PHOTO
It spread its wings
and ended up the size of an outstretched hand ….the funny thing was that a
passing Swallow-type bird spotted my pal being thrown and instantly turned to
get what it thought was a free breakfast ….just as quickly changing its mind
when the insect spread its wings and ended up bigger than the bird ….literally
chasing the Swallow away across the apron.
A Certain Stiffness - we are staying in the Hotel Mahavira 2, comparatively the best hotel in Nabire. There is a sister-hotel attached to our building, the Mahavira 1.
No. 1 offers basic budget style accommodation, including by-the-hour room rentals with the option to BYO or make use of the selection of services included in the price of the room.
Recently, as I understand it, a guest was concerned that his upright demeanor and stamina may not have been sufficient to get him value for money on his [room] rate ….so he took a concoction of modern medicines and local homeopathic pills, to the extent that it killed him. The body, on its back and covered in a sheet while displaying a spectacular degree of rigor mortis, was carried out through the lobby amongst mild-yet-respectful hilarity. It is unknown whether the chambermaid was compensated for her time and efforts in tending to the [room].
Tue30Dec14...we have internet !!!! Just a little ....but enough to upload some more pics and stories.
Ants in Pants - a flight into the mountains with 700 chickens and their owner. The smell and noise was bad but bearable, but the laundry baskets cum crates holding the chickens also brought 1000s of ants on board.
By the time we were half-way to destination we were covered ….fortunately the small, black variety and not the red, biting kind ….and they got everywhere including into the earpieces of my headphones, down my shirt and up my trousers. The landing was carried out with one walking across my eyelid ….and my nose etc.
To add to the fun one of the cluckers got loose, but seemed content to sit on its laundry basket and comment loudly on the world going by.
I was still finding them (ants, not chickens) in various folds and orifices two days later ….and the aircraft needed fumigated.
Smelly Dog - on a return from the mountains we carried a large, rather diseased looking and reeking dog back to Nabire along with its owner and escort ….I assume for a visit to the vet. The poor things sat quietly looking sad the whole trip.
Hypoxia - daily, due to the high terrain, we fly at what would be considered extreme altitudes in Europe ….using the Quadrantal Rule we cruise at 10500, 11500 and upwards with short stints at 14500. On other routes they pop up to 16000 to get over the hills. We have oxygen available for the crew but rarely use it ….but it is comforting to have in case the terrain or weather would keep us high for longer than planned.
Interestingly, many Indonesians are sensitive to changes in altitude. Those that live in the lowlands are all asleep by the time we pass 8000 ft and are sometimes groggy to the extent that they need a few moments to wake up before disembarking at the high elevation destinations. Conversely, those from the highlands are alert, excited and vocal in flight and enjoy the scenery ….and become more so - literally turbocharged - as we descend to sea level.
With a Wing and a Prayer - many Papuas are devout Christians, and prayer and asking/receiving blessings are a ritual in all aspects of daily life. A journey is a major event and God’s support is often requested. It is very common for a calm-but-audible prayer to be offered during start-up and shut-down ….but it can be disconcerting when the passenger is a bit frightened and loudly calls upon all [all] the Saints for succour and protection ….during critical moments of the flight.
Clear prop - I suppose it is a miracle that it does not happen more often with all the uncontrolled crowds milling about the airstrips, but it went wrong in Ilaga when a woman walked into the [spinning] prop of a TwinOtter.
The Indonesian pilots, lacking the inherent protection accorded to foreign pilots, immediately closed up the aircraft and departed ….their only option as otherwise they would have been chopped up themselves. Apparently normal operations resumed after 10 minutes ….a purpose built branch/string barrier has been erected to prevent future tragedies.
Church of the Guiding Light - there is a building near Nabire whose size, position and angle to the sun coincide to make it visible from a great distance ….a clear white dot which can be seen from 40+ NM out during the morning and early afternoon. Even on bad weather days there is very often a hole in the clouds ….and through it you can see that dot ….and it brings us safely home.
We have since discovered (during a wide circuit) that it is a church ….and an expedition is being planned to visit and photograph it on the ground soon.
Marshalling Prize - our Ground Crew is being trained to assist in guiding the aircraft to the stand at Nabire ….and when they get it right a prize is awarded. What started out as a joke is now a tradition ….and I have to carry a box of candy/lollipops (and keep a reserve supply in my hotel room) which is produced on arrival and formally awarded to the successful Marshaller.
For me there are two problems though ….any poor parking is blamed entirely on the pilot and then everybody demands a candy ….and the Ground Crew are having arguments over who get’s to do the marshalling ….there is also a plan afoot to paint some table tennis paddles bright orange to further enhance the experience.
Thu04Dec14...having a day on the ground while the aircraft goes through scheduled maintenance. The internet allowed me to upload some more photos during the last few days
Rubbish - two days ago our first flight of the day was delayed by the previous night's rubbish left on the runway, including food, paper, plastic containers and a tin can.
The airport clean-up crew was unavailable, and by the time there were four aircraft waiting for departure we decided to use our propwash to blast the runway clear - good fun and of course I got a photo.
Sun23Nov14…I have used most of the stable internet to date for uploading photos and videos but now have the space for some stories. Sorry it took a while. Thank you so much for your continued interest - sharing this great adventure with visitors makes Papua seem a little less remote.
What a Load - the highland communities are almost totally dependent on the airbridge to bring essential supplies in from the coastal towns [harbours].
A normal Cessna Caravan load is around 1200 kg, and a place like Nabire sends more than 40,000 kg into the hills daily.
Foodstuffs such as PotMie (the local PotNoodle), frozen and/or live animals, cooking oil and sugar as well as government subsidised bags of rice. Always fun are 18,000 fresh eggs - recently, a record 17,997 were intact after one of my better landings.
There is a lot of housing development happening in the highlands so we carry poles for street lighting, rebars and cement, door and windows, solar panels, wood and metal sheeting as well as complete furniture suites, beds and carpets. Job satisfaction can often be measured in the number of undamaged porcelain commodes one can deliver in a day.
Slightly more out of the ordinary are school books, medical supplies, huge flatscreen TVs, satellite dishes, fuel drums, diesel generators and scooters.
What we call ‘toko’ (=shop) loads seem to be the complete contents of a small retail outlet ….with glass display cabinets and stock featuring toys, pots and pans and clothing.
….and of course people, alive and dead.
Oils ain’t Oils - The surfaces of the Papua aerodromes are in very poor condition and after every landing you religiously do a walk-around to check for any new holes, dents or bits that have been knocked off. Props, tyres and brakes get a real hammering every flight.
On one such walk-around I came across a huge amount of dark oil streaking the bottom of the cargo pod and rear of the aircraft - literally dripping !
It ended up being 20 litres of chainsaw lubricating oil which had leaked out of its container in the cargo pod underneath the aircraft, and although it was pretty obvious that the streaks started halfway back along the cargo pod, I delayed departure by 15 minutes just for checking to convince myself that it was definitely not coming out of my engine.
Problem Pigs - a lot of live pigs were recently flown into the highlands ….something to do with a local festival.
All I suffered was noise and smell on our trips, but one of the other operators had just got 30 NM out at 9500’ when one got out of its crate.
Picture the scene as 90 kg worth of tusks, teeth and temper bounces around in the back of your Caravan ….apparently the co-pilot had the fire axe to hand as they rapidly RTB’d. The pilots claim to have taken the opportunity of the 9 minute dive for home to calmly discuss the finer points of Centre of Gravity changes as well as some animal welfare issues.
In related news ….village pigs roaming the runways are a colourful fact of Papua life, but sometimes it goes too far. A very large example ran out in front of a Pilatus Porter during landing ….bending the almost unbendable landing gear struts in a very messy way. The aircraft went into maintenance while the pig was promoted to dinner.
A Whale [Shark] of a Time - having flown my legal maximum of 100 hours in 30 days I unexpectedly had a mandatory Saturday off and was invited to join the MAF Missionary Aviation Fellowship families on an outing to see the Whale Sharks in Cenderawasih Bay.
Although it is unknown where the sharks breed, Cenderawasih seems to be used a Nursery and they often congregate near the ‘bagan’ fishing platforms in the hope of a snack.
A Top 10 life experience being in the water with a pair of these massive, docile, curious and playful fish. The day was made complete with a pod of dolphins and some snorkling off tiny Pulau Nuburi (a 150 m circular paradise). Of course there are photos and a video.
Unhappy Incursion - a few days ago, when I was on final to land at Nabire I saw a person standing beside the runway near the spot where we usually touch down.
This was not in the least unusual so the approach was continued and an eye kept on the person (as well as the ever-present dogs, cattle, schoolkids and scooters).
As I started to flare I caught sight of the person, a woman, darting out onto the runway - directly into my path and reaching out to me with her arms outstretched.
In brief - we went around, missed her by a few metres, communicated with ATC (5 second delay while I got a squeaky voice under control) and orbited overhead while she was accosted and then restrained by the airport staff ….who had their hands full as she struggled and screamed that she wanted to die.
We were later told that she had been seen around the airport over the previous days, obviously suffering from a mental health problem, and that her intention had been to commit suicide. The Police took her into custody and hopefully she will get the help she needs ….but she will probably be back on the runway next week. How do you NOTAM that ?
Around à GoGo - the on-going discussion re: our Missed Approach last month when there were “too many children on the runway” in no nearer to establishing exactly how many children makes too many children ….but we are working on it.
Two days ago one of the other operator’s Caravans ended up in the ditch beside the airstrip’s runway when a brake failure led to loss of directional control. Fortunately no injuries to the crew (and no spillage of the 1200 litres of petrol they were carrying).
However, the local population was thrilled with the spectacle and came running to get a closer look and family photos ….just as we were joining finals.
The runway had initially been reported as “clear”, but by the time there were 600+ people on it the report was modified to “not clear”.
Our Missed Approach procedure was already initiated ¾ of a NM from the
threshold ….by European standards hardly worthy of note but in Papua in an
aircraft at Maximum Landing Weight, fully configured for a short field landing,
at 10,000’ Density Altitude with windshear….the aircraft performed as
advertised and gave us a beautiful 100 fpm climb but I was glad to have reviewed
the procedure in the self-brief at Top of Descent (BTW we found a nice spacious
valley to accelerate, climb and position for another approach without further
Thu13Nov14...got stable internet so uploaded some more pictures. Stories to follow.
We were blessed with unusually fast and stable internet for 5 hours today ….until lightning struck the town and took all electrics with it. I was able to upload a lot of pictures and a GoPro video of the reef http://youtu.be/bUn0VFxD2r0 , but the pics may look a bit disorganised and lack captions.
Sun26Oct14…a day out with colleagues who organised a trip with a local fisherman to the islands an hour’s cruise North-west of Nabire. Along the way we saw two pods of dolphins and then visited several uninhabited islands with coral reefs and a WW2 wreckage ….sorry, but you are going to get more underwater pics and movies (and some flying pics).
Fri24Oct14…the usual runs to Bilogai WABV with food, passengers and building supplies and a consignment of live fish for a fish farm ….brings back memories of flying eels around Europe.
The temperature is rising ….at 0900 local time it was 30°C, the heat bouncing off the apron …by 1000 it was 40°C. Normally the cloud build-up does not start to affect the Freeway until well after midday, but today the Freeway was literally clogged with CBs by 1030.
The last run to Bilogai was a continuous dodging of CBs. By the time we departed Bilogai the Freeway westwards was impassable, so we climbed to 14,500 ft and crossed the 12,000 ft ridge North out of the Freeway, returning to Nabire via the northern lowlands ….even there the weather was unusually fruity giving further diversions ….almost all operators followed eachother to reach the coast well North of Nabire, which we followed South in stately procession.
Wed22Oct14...three days of nice flying, all trips to WABV Bilogai with general cargo and foodstuffs, live chickens, building materials and live people.
You would think that doing the same run would get boring, but each day / each flight Papua provides different clouds, winds, traffic and visual pictures ....each with its own unique challenges and wonders.
Sun19Oct14...day off and a trip to Nusi Beach. Tried out my new toy (waterproof GoPro).
Fri17Oct14...back on the job in Nabire after a long journey from Glasgow, broken by meetings in Jakarta and a mandatory rest day here in Papua.
Mon13Oct14...back in Jakarta, recalled from leave a week early due to the departure of Chief Pilot Mark.
START OF TOUR 3 with a new outlook and looking forward to finally being able to my job.
Forgot to tell a story from my previous journey.
Our CEO had very kindly given me a present of SpekKoek (my favourite Indonesian baked pastry) to take with me back to Scotland. It comes in a roll, looking like pre-packed cookie dough.... on airport security xrays it also apparently looks like a stick of explosives. SPEKKOEK
Picture the scene at Jakarta's Soekarno-Hatta airport.... where all your stuff is scanned prior to entering the building.... lot's of shouting, opening of luggage and then hilarity that a bule (white guy) would have something as Indonesian as SpekKoek in his bag.
Checked in... then 20 minutes later my name echoed over the tannoy.... my suitcase had been sent back to the Emirates desk and several [armed] gentlemen wanted to know WTF I had in there. Less hilarity this time.
Finally during the 3 hour stop-over in Dubai.... the bags had been checked straight through to Jakarta-Dubai-Glasgow.... but must have gotten scanned. Named on the tannoy again.... try explaining SpekKoek to an Arab.... I finally had to offer to take a bite. No hilarity at all that time.
Thu25Sep14...Almost 2400 visitors since starting the blog on 01Mar14 !
Thank you for showing an interest.... I am humbled.... and feel guilty about not providing more regular updates - I will blame the unreliable internet of Papua but things have also been a bit hectic and stressful. Improvements are imminent so I hope to return to daily posts and photo-uploads when possible.
Tue23Sep14…End of Tour 2 and starting leave in Scotland. Travelled from Nabire on Sunday and spent Monday in our Jakarta office catching up with colleagues and eating too much.
The Emirates flight Jakarta - Dubai - Glasgow took the northern route over Iran and Russia to avoid Ukraine but still took only 19 hours.
Wed17Sep14...Nabire tower reported “too many children” on the runway and ordered a go-around…. a leisurely discussion is in progress re: at what point does the number of children on a busy runway becomes “too many” ?
In itself not unusual.... there are always people, animals and sometimes even motorbikes crossing the runway, but this time there were 50 children playing on the runway on the way home from school.
Sun14Sep14...we had a day out to Nusi beach, an hour’s drive North of Nabire. Good company, a BBQ, crystal clear warm water and coral reefs…. waterproof camera added to wishlist.
Thu11Sep14...transported livestock to the villages in the highlands : 46 small pigs, 100 chickens, 20 ducks and 12 rabbits.
Non-stop grunting, clucking, quacking and stamping drowning out the engine - the only distraction from our throbbing eardrums was our watering eyes (and no matter how many tarpaulins we put down, our engineers remove most of the cabin panels after such flights to check for ammonia corrosion…. while the crew get sent to the hotel for a shower and the laundry service get’s a sealed bag).
Other cargo this month was the usual food (inc frozen chickens), cigarettes, mail, money and building supplies…. 1200 kg of rebars, wood and semen (= cement in Bahasa)…. I’m sorry, but that just never get’s old !
There has been a change in the weather over the past few weeks.
We do not really have seasons 200 NM South of the equator, but there have been a lot more rain showers…. increasing the humidity to near 100%.
It means ‘low’ cloud closing the high airstrips in the cool mornings, and with the high humidity the increasing temperature after sunrise immediately creates TCs and CBs - so flying the Freeway get’s fruity around 1100 local time rather than from the usual 1300 onwards.
The last few days has seen a band of CBs sitting squarely across track East of Nabire…. so everybody diverts North or South of track. You also tend to remain high to avoid terrain which rises to 5000+ even close to the coast…. we all end up following eachother to the clear spots and favour wide circuits with long descents parallel to the coast…. always fun to be part of a 5 aircraft procession, where we communicate as much directly with eachother as we do with Air Traffic Control.
The preceeding posts were uploaded on Sat27Sep14.
Sat20Sep14...got good internet for a few hours, so started by uploading some new pics.
Standby for the rest.
Sat16Aug14...back in Nabire after a wonderful month of leave in Scotland. Once again apologies for the silence...things got a bit out of hand for a while, leaving little time for blogging...now got some stories and a few new pics. START OF TOUR 2
To break the return journey and reduce jetlag I stopped in Dubai for a night, the plan being to arrive at 0200 ...sleep until 0800 ....see Dubai ....sleep 1800 to 0100 and head back to the airport again at 0200. Sounds drastic but it fits really well with the 1600 local time arrival in Indonesia.
Anyway, that was the plan so back in the hotel after a day out in Dubai at 1800 I hang the 'Do Not Disturb' sign on my door and settle down to sleep.
At 2100 the room phone rings ....it's a nervous sounding Receptionist who introduces himself, says he hopes he is not disturbing me, am I OK and , after a pause, asks if I am satisfied with my stay at the hotel ?
I reply negatively, reminding him of my planned 0200 check-out and the 'Do Not Disturb' sign on the door ...."Oh God, Mr Jansen ....I am so sorry. Please continue sleeping peacefully."
Aye right ! Tossed and turned for a while, finally giving up on sleep, got dressed and headed down to the hotel bar to sample the Happy Hour Offerings ....stopping off on the way to have a constructive chat with the Receptionist.
He saw me coming and he and the other two behind the counter bunched together like frightened schoolboys.
I was firm but friendly initially but that changed when the-three-behind-the-counter looked really traumatised ....then got evasive, avoiding eye contact ....then suddenly could no longer speak English.
I am afraid there was a reduction of sense-of-humour on my part ....the details are hazy but the phrase "Manager Now" featured prominently.
Said Manager appeared from behind the partition where he had been hiding ...actually looking pale ....and he explained things, almost with tears in his eyes.
48 hours ago, the previous occupant of my room had committed suicide, after retiring early and hanging the 'Do Not Disturb' sign on the door !
It has been the same Chamber and Reception staff on duty that night ....and they were all suffering from a severe case of deja vue ....and after a long debate had collectively decided to phone to see if their worst nightmare had come true [again].
They would not give any further details, and had been instructed by the hotel chain not to mention it to other guests ....but as they had "very much disturbed" me it was felt that I was entitled to an explanation ....which very much disturbed me.
I was offered a different room but decided, having downed four cocktails, not to bother ....it screwed my my sleep plan though !
END OF TOUR 1
END OF TOUR 1
...heading back to Scotland after 4.5 months
...heading back to Scotland after 4.5 months
Wed18Jun14...returned from a few days maintenance in Timika with the aircraft (inc boroscope inspection) and pilots (steak and pizza dinners) back in top form. Today is the first day I have stable internet so lot's of photos and a video to upload.
Papua...insect noise in the jungle in Mimika
Sorry for the silence ...also trying to upload photos.
I was laid up for 8 days with Malaria, an ear infection and a bad stomach …could not keep anything down including medication.
Seen by an English speaking local doctor …prescribed a mountain of medication …which actually made me feel worse but did cure me. I was looked after very well by my colleagues and the Company …including an offer of evacuation to Jakarta or Singapore if things has worsened.
Internet has been weak, so uploading is impossible. Almost daily there is also a blue flash, a loud bang and the entire district goes dark …with the internet off for hours.
Flying to our usual destinations of Bilogai and Sinak, with a run to Mulia for variation.
A few cancellations due to local trouble at the airstrips …ranging from a sit-in on a runway to shots fired by dissidents at the garrison …it sounds more dramatic than reality and we have good intel prior to flight.
Cargo until about two weeks ago mainly Pot Mie (the local Pot Noodle),
poultry and world cup items. Then a few days hauling 1200 kg of semen into the
mountains, followed by equal amounts of rice…and then passengers out.
BTW semen = Behassa for cement …a never ending source of amusement.
Sun08Jun14…scheduled day off. The aircraft is airworthy again and things should be normal again tomorrow. Went for a walk around a sleepy-Sunday Nabire today with my camera.
If you do not want to walk you can hop on the back of a scooter or into small people carriers which continuously cruise the streets ...either will bring you wherever you want for a ridiculously small fee - as long as you do not mind sharing with up to 14 Papuas. Most of these vans have names such as FIFA World Cup, UEFA Football-Wagon and various personal Behassa names as well as Black Warrior, Razor, Ghetto Blaster and Death on Wheels. PHOTO
Wed04Jun14…small mishap at Bilogai …a faulty inner tube caused one of our main tyres to deflate dragging us to the right after landing …coming to a gentle halt at an angle, stuck in the soft ground just off the asphalt. PHOTO Our engineer, his equipment and a spare wheel were flown in by AMA’s Pilatus Porter …and we were on our way again after 4 hours. The aircraft will be on the ground for a few days for further inspections.
Tue03Jun14…another birthday party - this time mine - enthusiastically attended by all our staff with traditional water soaking, shaving cream spraying, a beautiful cake and a trip to Nabire beach. PHOTO
Lesson of the Day : watch what you put in your pocket. I was collecting seashells during our visit to the beach, storing them in my trouser pocket until …the hermit crab still resident in one of the shells took umbrage to my efforts …taking further umbrage to being launched from my pocket in a trajectory that saw him 6 meters further down the beach …fearlessly making threat displays and mock attacks on the toes of my colleagues …who thought it was all the funniest thing they had ever seen ! PHOTO
Sat31May14…expanding on our efforts of Sat17May14 …I went back to our Café and amused myself ordering stuff that is always out-of-stock until on the 3rd attempt the staff declared that they had spaghetti !!!
Yes, please I will have some of that, pronto !!!
When it did arrive …it was real pasta but with slivers of chicken and bathed in a chilli sauce that would bring Johnny Cash back to life singing “Ring of Fire” …never been so grateful for a cold can of Coke …or soft WC roll.
The Café is the only place open on a Sunday so I ended up back the next day …and the only thing available was Crispy Chicken.
The previous entries were [ finally ] uploaded on Sun08Jun14.
Sun18May14...an earthquake at 0430 our time (1930 UTC) ...enough to wake you up and shift the mattress sideways on the bed. Went on for about 30 seconds ...just long enough for the caveman in me to start feeling nervous. A number of aftershocks, lasting into the afternoon ...no big deal by local standards ...only damage in hotel was some tiles off the wall in the lounge - already being repaired. Reportedly 6.5 on the Richter scale with the epicentre 2000 miles away off the coast of Sumatra.
Finally figured out how to upload videos ...and today I have the bandwidth to get one uploaded.
Lesson of the Day : don't order the same smoothie twice. If you have really enjoyed a mango smoothie and want to repeat the experience ...wait until tomorrow. The first one you get is multiple mangoes blended to perfection ...thick with pure fruit and a little ice. If you order a second one it will be whatever-mango-is-left bulked up with water and lot's of ice ...a watery disappointment which I have fallen for three times already.
Sat17May14…enjoying a quiet day. We went out to lunch to our usual nearby Café …and got a bit naughty. We sat down and perused the [extensive] menu and started ordering stuff we knew was not available ….between food and drinks we had the staff back-and-forth 11 times.
Ended up with the Crispy Chicken ! (see Tue13May14)
Fri16May14…took a nice long walk exploring Nabire in 30° heat
…culminating in a visit to the AMA hangar to see their Pilatus Porter pilot and
one of the MAF families with a Quest Kodiak on the apron (both missionary
aviation organisations). Thought I was well covered but got sunburned on the
bits I missed with the sunscreen.
Wed14May14…another good day with a run to Bilogai (1.5 hrs return) and two trips to Sinak (2.2 hrs return).
On our first trip to Sinak there was a football sized boulder on the runway …just missed it.
On our second trip to Sinak a pig ran out just as we were rotating …just missed it …and we are talking about a 250 kg solid village porker ! No pics, but both pilots squealed !
Looking forward to a few days without flying as the aircraft goes through a maintenance cycle. We have been promised a food parcel from Jakarta which should arrive with the Engineers who come to assist our guys.
Tue13May14…long day today …7.4 hours with multiple trips to Sinak and Bilogai. Nothing of note to report …however, some other stories…
Getting the most basic things done here can be frustrating. The language barrier is exacerbated by a genuine and guileless misunderstanding of a Westerner’s needs or perceptions [ of hygiene in particular ]
…e.g. having asked in vain for a clean towel 5 days in a row I left the now-sentient towel in a heap on the floor by the door …on my return the same towel had been neatly hung up in the bathroom
…e.g. having asked for a change of bedding for a week I stripped the bed myself and left the pile outside my door (having first marked the sheets with a hidden X) …this afternoon my bed had been neatly made up …with the same sheets !
Still, once I have got across what is needed through a combination of Behassa, gestures and physical demonstrations the staff fall over themselves to meet my needs …well, almost …the other pilot got my fresh towels and one of the engineers was surprised to get clean linen ! Another personal visit to reception with the towel and bedding in hand got the result we were looking for.
I have to admit that no effort was spared when I asked for a lightbulb to be replaced in my room …words do not suffice - see the PHOTO
The other daily adventure is ordering food …at least half of any menu is out of stock, wherever you go …and if you do order something there is only a 50% chance what arrives is actually what you ordered. Meals are further enlivened by the sequence in which the food arrives …usually no problem if you order Indonesian dishes …but Western dishes flummox them and you simply get it in the order that it is prepared : it is very common to get dessert first, followed by the main, followed by the starter and ending with the vegetable sidedish.
Close to the hotel is a new Café offering an unusually Western décor and very extensive menu ranging from spaghetti to seafood to French fries to milkshakes …but the only thing ever available is Crispy Chicken Steak …actually very tasty, well presented and prepared in a Western way. Yesterday there was also Chicken Cordon Blue ( !!!! ) …I immediately ordered that with tingling tastebuds …it ended up being Crispy Chicken Steak rolled up with [possibly] some cheese …tasted the same, anyway.
Latest development : as I am writing this my bed has been changed …literally ! The old bed which was two singles combined has been removed and I am getting a double mattress etc …wonder whether I get clean sheets ?!?! Update to follow.
Lesson of the Day : watch how you scratch. You buy a scratchcard voucher to top up your mobile’s credit ….scratch the card and the code appears ….scratch too hard and some of the code disappears. Did that with an IDR 100,000 voucher (GB£ 6) which over here is the heftiest top up you can buy ….totally scratched out 2 digits ….and had to spend 45 minutes trying combinations before it worked.
Fri09May14…Spent a bit longer on the ground at Sinak today waiting for the officials we brought in to inspect the runway. Took the opportunity to take some pics outside the perimeter …politely escorted by my BFs from the TNI - who also asked to be in the picture.
On return to Nabire it was our Engineer Marcellinus’ birthday …soaking, spraying, chasing and cake. Met the Company Parrot who took a dislike to me because my camera kept flashing at him.PHOTO
Wed07May14…unusual and unexplained dearth of cargo requiring transport this morning. Finally got going at 0900 for a single run to Bilogai with a Poultry Theme : live ones, frozen ones, eggs as well as 3 passengers. Afterwards back to the hotel via the ‘Lucky’ supermarket/general store …invested in a tin opener and some bread “tidak gula” (= without added sugar) …tuna fish sandwich for an early dinner tonight !!!
While waiting for the cargo I came across a little flower - named ‘Shy Francis’ locally …if you touch its leaves they close up instantly.
Lesson of the Day : gentle slapping is good. At night, when the mosquito that has been buzzing around your ear finally pushes you beyond all reason and you slap your own head …be gentle. I got the mosquito but hit myself so hard that I took a sharp intake of breath …sucking the little b%£$&d up my nose as he tumbled down from my forehead.
Tue06May14...AOG (Aircraft On Ground) day today due to paperwork problems. Spent the day working on artwork for our new enroute chart through the Freeway. Out for a walk and lunch with Chief Pilot Mark to a nearby restoran which offers an extensive menu....but the only thing ever available is crispy chicken with fries and veg.
Mon05May14…only two flights today …late start caused by heavy rain in Nabire and cloud buildup in the Freeway (the east-west valley corridor through the mountains).
Biggest excitement was carrying 8000 fresh eggs IN - 7913 remaining uncracked after landing ….and bringing OUT passengers and rabbits. Some had escaped and were hopping around the cargo pod (rabbits, not passengers). They messed the pod spectacularly so our ground guys liberated a few for their dinner, as compensation ….the owner accepted the deal gracefully.
Mark and I bought a small hotplate/pot/steamer for the room and made pasta with tomato sauce and mushrooms - no local additives ….absolute heaven !
Sat03May14...delayed departure this morning for removal of bird's nests
from inside both wings. The culprits, a pair of scrawny sparrows, sat on the
aircraft berating the engineers...and even tried to sneak into the wing to
start rebuilding. PHOTO
Tue29Apr14….two flights today : cement to Bilogai and foodstuffs plus a satellite dish to Sinak. Afterwards a surprise birthday party for Chief Pilot Mark …cake, beer and a visit to the beach with the whole crew. As usual I was careful to apply sunscreen to arms and face …but forgot the feet …those parts not covered in sand are now well sunburned.
Got moved into a better room in our still somewhat rustic hotel....internet connection still weak and unreliable.
Sun27Apr14...hoping for a restful day in glorious solitude. Had planned to start last night but was forcibly adopted by the Ukrainian crews who operate the Kamov helicopters ...watching these guys handle a 4000 kg sling load at 10,000 ft Density Altitude is impressive !
They had spare parts arrive ....which included Ukrainian sausage, bacon, Georgian brandy and, bizarrely, a bottle of Glen Morangie. Generosity and hospitality personified ...but the situation at home weighs heavily on their minds. Every refill of the glasses required everybody standing, clinking and colourfully cursing the Russians.
Sat26Apr14...last working day this week and we are so ready for a rest day. Planned 2 x Bilogai and 2 x Sinak, but called it a day after the 1st Sinak.
There had been trouble in Mulia after we left yesterday and my Indo Army BFs running the Sinak airstrip were extremely tense and hostile towards the local population (very friendly with us though, visibly upset and telling us their worries). With Mulia only a valley away we departed with alacrity before things got creative. Did the max allowable 35 hrs this week anyway.
Fri25Apr14...several runs to Bilogai carrying 1000 kg of rice and Pot Mie .....oh, yeah ....and a corpse.
Finished the day with a single run to new destination Mulia...spectacular in a narrow valley. Its a local nationalist trouble spot but no problems while we were there...but the pong of 1.2 tons of fish we had in the back just about finished us. We tried having a farting contest to clear the air...but had to stop when last night's dog nearly caused a messy follow-thru.
The above posts were uploaded on Sun27Apr14
Thu24Apr14...had to add this...the terrible restaurant in our very mediocre hotel was closed this evening so we headed up the street to find an alternative for dinner...and ended up eating dog ! Intestine and bowel report to follow....
BTW...Fido was very boney and so spiced that it could have been cat.
Thu 24Apr14...again to Bilogai and Sinak. The airstrips are 'organised' by whoever has the biggest clout in the area...in the case of Sinak its the TNI (Army) that decides who gets to fly back to Nabire - they collect the fares from which everybody gets a cut. The Army guys are as glad as the locals to see an aircraft come in....most have been stationed there for more than 6 months without relief - and are grateful when we give them our excess/leftover food and some conversation. My new best friends asked politely if they could be on a photo with me....toting their rifles and trying to look fierce but in reality could not stop giggling. Weird experience....PHOTO
Wed23Apr14...6 hours of flying bringing cargo to Bilogai (elev 6950') and Sinak (elev 6700'). Early starts (0600 departures) to be finished by 1400 when the weather and winds build up making the valleys impassable and airstrips unusable. Cargo included frozen and live chickens, FIFA Brazil World Cup paraphernalia, foodstuffs and cement. Passengers caught a ride on the return.
Mon21Apr14…flew back from Biak and straight into two runs to Sinak, this time in bad weather. Another very interesting learning experience.
Cargo IN : 1000 kg of rice, pineapple flavour biscuits, Pot Mie (local Pot Noodle, would you believe ?) and eggs. Passengers and assorted luggage OUT. On the second run we had 4 Papuas, 3 pigs and a huge bushel of what looked like wild asparagus. One of the pigs escaped when we arrived at Nabire….and was honestly last seen heading back in the direction of Sinak. The owner took the loss philosophically. Unfortunately no photos.
Now settled into our hotel….a trifle rustic, made all the more adventurous with the anthill in my room. PHOTO
Sun20Apr14…after our cargo runs yesterday we brought the aircraft to Biak for weighing. There was heavy fighting on Biak during the war with pockets of Japanese still resisting the US forces months after the invasion. Around 2000 Japanese were holding out in caves in the jungle above the airport…which the Americans finally subdued with a single bomb…after pouring 10s of 1000s of litres of gasoline into the caves. Relics and human remains PHOTO still openly litter the site of the battle and final annihilation. Flying back to Nabire very early tomorrow for another 2 runs to Sinak.
Sat19Apr14...first training flight with Chief Pilot Mark to Sinak airstrip in the highlands in our Cessna Grand Caravan PK-LTF.PHOTO
Cargo in and passengers out - Papua welcomed me with a beautifully stable, clear and calm day .....belying the unpredictable and utterly unforgiving character of this environment.
Fri18Apr14....0030 departure from Jakarta Soekarno-Hatta to our new base in Nabire, Papua Province on a BatikAir B737 and, after a 6 hour layover in Ambon, the last hop in the WingsAirways ATR72. Glad to arrive in our hotel after 36 hours without sleep.
Thu17Apr14...final day in the office in preparation for starting our tour in Papua. PHOTO
Wed16Apr14...final course : CET (Crew Emergency Training). Cracking day playing with breathing apparatus, putting out fires, opening and closing B737 doors ("Cabin Crew...arm slides and crosscheck"), removing overwing exits, going down slides and floating in the pool handling rafts. The day was made complete when a frog joined us in the shower.
Lesson of the Day : Don't get distracted when changing clothes. Back in the room and desperate to change into my shorts, I got distracted by a phone call ...afterwards I put on my running shoes and t-shirt and went upstairs to the rooftop cafe...in my boxers. My normal shorts must look pretty stupid because nobody noticed the difference ...although they did look surprised when I headed back to my room without ordering my usual iced tea.
Fri11Apr14...impossible to get a Bluebird taksi during rushhour...so my Chief Pilot suggested we each to take a motorbike taksi back to the hotel. Of course the drivers had to race...and got us back to the Avissa in 4.5 minutes. Was shaking too hard to be able to take a photo.
Wed09Apr14...General Election today for the parliament which will decide which parties can put forward a Presidential candidate (20% minimum vote to qualify). It is such an intense event that offices are closed for the day...and it was suggested I remain in the hotel and not go wandering.
Tue08Apr14…Traffic during rushhour in Jakarta (which lasts 2 x 5 hours) is unbelievable. In the absence of a raised walkway getting across a main road on foot is almost impossible.PHOTO Token attention and compliance is given to traffic lights at main intersections …..lights at pedestrian crossings are totally ignored. Close to my hotel there is a Mall where guards man the crossing to allow potential customers to reach the Mall alive…..but during the thickest traffic even the guards are loathe to venture off the pavements (which are an adventure in their own right).
Sun06Apr14...day trip to the mountains at Puncak, SE of Jakarta to enjoy the cool highland air (my Indonesian colleagues shivered in the 19°C mist). The narrow road up through the villages has a smooth flowing one-way system morning and evening but is a free-for-all during the day ....with a 30 km traffic jam. I can highly recommend the goat served by the Restoran Rindu Alam at a mere 4400 ft elevation.PHOTO
Lesson of the Day : Don't sit directly under the aircon vent. The air is so humid here that there is always a buildup of condensation....which drips.
Sat05Apr14...an early morning solo-sightseeing walk in a hazy 31°C to the Monument Nasional (Monas) and Nasional Museum. PHOTO Went to McD's for breakfast....had pancakes when I found out that the pork sausage is actually chicken. In need of some western food, so also had lunch at McD...1/4 pounders do not exist here so we'll stick with Big Macs.
Fri04Apr14...last day of a heavy week's Mandatory Courses at Halim Airport (Crew Resource Management CRM, Dangerous Goods DG, Aviation Security, Windshear, etc).PHOTO
Mon31Mar14...enjoyed the blessing ceremony and luncheon in celebration of our new offices. PHOTO Published a few more photos. Tomorrow starting a few days of Mandatory Courses at Halim Airport.
Lesson of the Day : Think
before you drink ! Because I appreciate a good cup of
coffee it was suggested I try the uniquely Indonesian Kopi Luwak, “the most
expensive coffee in the world”. Paid an outrageous
IDR102,000 and drank half the cup before reading the info
BTW…I have tasted better coffee.
Thu27Mar14...escorted to DGCA HQ to sit air law exam...a combination of FAA and JAA regulations with a local flavour and some creative thinking thrown in...passed.
Tue25Mar14...escorted to Immigration HQ for final stages of residency permit : photograph and fingerprints.
Mon24Mar14...passed the DGCA medical and very grateful to have had an Asian One Air colleague with me to assist with language and procedures.
0440 wake-up to register at facility by 0615...then given a slip of paper listing tests required. Facility built around a central - very busy - waiting room….each med branch has its own room off the central area.
Priority is going to lab for urine and lab for blood test….after that you can eat. Open a door, hand over your slip and take a seat…after 10 min your name is called, enter the room and undergo whatever examination is on offer in that room. Out again in 2 - 5 minutes, except ECG which was a killer 10 minute treadmill test. Other tests were dentist, chest and teeth xray, audio, eyes and physical…..finished by 0930. Medical certificate issued at 1430.
Sat22Mar14...spent the day studying for the DGCA Air Law exam and thinking healthy thoughts for Monday's medical. Published first photos - nothing spectacular but just wanted to share the first impressions.
Lesson of the Day : if you are going on a short taksi journey in Jakarta do not ask the hotel to phone for a taksi. There is a minimum charge of IDR40,000 for a phone booking ....which I had to pay for a 10 minute IDR17,000 journey !
Wed19Mar14...START OF TOUR 1 arrived in Jakarta to a warm welcome from the Company. Starting the final part of the immigration and licensing process....this could take a while.
Wed12Mar14...visa issued and passport returned. Flying out to Jakarta on Saturday.
Sun09Mar14...still in Glasgow awaiting visa issue, hoping to be on my way to Indonesia within two weeks.
Sun22Dec13...start of this blog, having just returned from interviews in Jakarta, Indonesia and accepted a position flying Cessna Caravans with Asian One Air in Papua.