Chasing Light: Lost in West Papua

CHASING LIGHT – LOST IN WEST PAPUA

It was 5:30 in the afternoon and we were running as fast as physically possible up the side of a mountain, deep in the forest of West Papua.
‘Come on, come on!’ I yelled, almost to myself as I lost my footing in the mud. The local boys chattered to each other in Bahasa; I was sure they were saying something like, ‘What the fuck is this crazy white guy doing running us through the forest like this?’

forest-sharp

I could see it about to happen, the golden dappled dance of sun squeezing between green leaves was a giveaway. Soon white clouds would be bleeding red and the blue sky would bruise with it.
Mr Sugiono lowered his machete and stared at my sweat-drenched face.
‘Ok?’ He pointed over Wijaya Sentosa and I followed his gaze.
‘A little further?’ I asked. It was starting without me. The highest streaks of white had already begun to paint themselves for a ceremonious end to the day.
Sugi didn’t understand and he pointed out again, ‘O.K?’
‘No, NO!’ I snapped and pointed uphill. ‘A little further!’ He didn’t understand, but he understood, and conceded, faithfully. With a final ‘Ok.’

SUGI

And off he charged, sensing the rush in my voice. I followed, and so too did Mr Hanozono with my tripod, and Mr Ramat, (barely a Mr, and more an 18-year-old kid from Jakarta) our translator – hauling more of my kit.
But the forest didn’t break apart like I had hoped. It was wearing us like a glove. I pushed my muddy chest against a fallen tree, spun over it and charged on.

‘This is stupid!’ I thought to myself. ‘Someone (me) is going to hurt themselves, or break this gear.’
Even still, Sugi pushed uphill for me. I stopped and watched him move through the thick forest without the slightest of effort. Every brush of his knife artistically crafted for the next to follow.

I looked up at the orange burning blanket and knew we’d missed it. ‘Fuck.’ I muttered, out of breath and defeated.
‘Come on.’ Said Ramat.

camping-indo

I smiled at him. Just a kid like me, a kid from Jakarta without a clue as to what was so damn important about getting a shot of the sun going down that we needed to hock ourselves through the rainforest like .
He looked at me and asked, ‘Why do you stop?’ He pointed west through the trunks of the forest and said, ‘Come on, look – It’s beautiful.’
And it was beautiful. Broken and obscure the sky peeked through at us as it tried to decide which shade of magenta it would like to be and I sat down on the forest floor.
‘SUGI.’ I called. ‘SUGIONO…’
‘EH?’ He called back.
‘SUGI COME BACK.’ I yelled.
Ramat translated, yelling into the forest towards Sugi.
Sugi yelled back, Ramat translated. ‘He says, “Why – It’s beautiful?”’
I laughed, ‘Tell him we missed it.’

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Sugi ambled back down to us, the game now over. He slid his machete back into its holder and sat down beside me, saying something in Bahasa which I knew meant, ‘We missed it.’ His empathy was so profound; but I guess I didn’t miss anything at all. The beauty was there in front of me as we all sat on the forest floor and watched it burn.

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Lost in Kathmandu

The-ball birds

I have to start the story in a tight transit ally that separates the British and Indian Embassies in Kathmandu. We were in a panic. My producer and I had spent six hours sitting in the gutter waiting for our bribe visas to be fast tracked. The day before we had cut a deal over a small brown desk, and before we knew it our passport and the fate of our trip was out of our hands. With an hour to spare before we missed our ride to New Delhi, the Indian Consulate finally stormed out of the Embassy and into the adjacent cramped office spaces to sign the sticker on our passport. The yellow string-hung sign on the sliding door waved him farewell as he slammed it behind him and stormed back to what technically is India. The sign read, ‘Photocopies, Passport Photos, and Flights to Dehli’ but said nothing of express visa processing.

empty-street

We were in a panic because our visa stickers were in the wrong passports. The ally was a crammed frenzy of scooters, pushbikes, trucks, and us, with our passports pinned to the blue concrete wall as we carefully peeled our visas off the page. I took a breath and looked up at the razor wire decorating the top of the blue concrete wall of the Indian Embassy and thought to myself, ‘If this rips, we are screwed.’

boy-on-bike  Street-walker

And that exact feeling is ‘Kathmandu’ – adrenalin heaving through my chest, as I embraced the chaos that was happening around me. Nepal sucked me in, it demanded my attention, held my focus, and it expanded me. As an outsider I had no control over my surroundings and no real comprehension of what life is like for the Nepalese. And when I gave in to it, rather than ogle at it from the comfort of an airport taxi to my hotel, the chaos was charming.

drinkingvacent-chair

I walked.  I just picked a main road, committed to it, and walked. I actually couldn’t process anything fast enough. The insanely busy streets happened around me at first. I found myself in the way of motorists and pedestrians. I held up traffic as a teenager hanging from the side of a van tried to convince me to get on the bus for 10 rupees. I felt like a rock in a blender full of fruit – everything else soft enough to slice and spin. It wasn’t until I stopped to take stock and two men fixing a motorbike came over and struck up a conversation, that I started to feel the ‘flow’.

the-men

They asked me where I was from, I said, ‘Australia.’
The older man said, ‘Ah, Australia, beautiful.’
I said, ‘It is.’ Happy they knew where I was from.
Before I had time to continue, the younger man shouted, ‘Nepal, beautiful as well.’

My-Men

I could not help but smile and agree. Nepal and the Nepalese people are beautiful. My first single serving friends in Kathmandu. I took their photo, and then they continued to fix the motorbike. The words mulled in my mind, ‘Nepal is beautiful as well’!

old-manMonkey

I stayed on the same road until busy roads and incomprehensible roundabouts squeezed into small stalls and dirt tracks, and further into foothills of mountains. People slowed, and began to stare, and smile, and wave, and stare. The photos I have are what I saw, but what I felt was peace. I walked, visually intoxicated, until I couldn’t walk any further – and then I turned around and walked home. If I have any advice, it’s pick one road and walk… you’ll experience it all – and you’ll be able to find your way home.

Instagram: @the_lostboys

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