An Australian volunteer who was doing whatever volunteers do in PNG.
I was there for 2 years until Dec 2005 .. I hope I made the most of it.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

The Postie-Bike Diary

Kota Biak, Indonesia
Saturday 1st of October 2005


Getting a motorbike sounded like a good idea. Public transport was attempted the day before and although it seems to be quite efficient on the routes it went, it didn't go everywhere. Besides getting off at a particular place to see something and then getting another ride to go further would be a nightmare. And in the end it is certainly not the same as having your own wheels.

For the negotiation in getting one it was by chance a local cool dude - I know this because he came and released a sea turtle, which he bought at the market, that morning outside my room - and tourist friend was met next to the Ojeks (motorbike taxis) stand. We told him what we wanted to do - hire a bike for the day - and he helped us work out the price.

Two minutes later, and the upfront payment of 50,000 Rupiah (5 US dollars) made, me and my brave travel partner mounted "Jazz" the Honda Motorbike and wobbled off. Brave, because the last time I rode a motorbike, it was around the family farm whereupon I hit a rock in the overgrown paddock and got thrown. I was certain the confidence should have returned in the intervening years. None of this was of course mentioned.


A few drops of rain stung my face and this gradually turned into many and shelter was needed before the deluge would soak us. A little kiosk roof proved ideal while we waited, and it gave me the opportunity to stock up on those cheap style Chuppa-Chups - never leave home without them.

The ride to this point involved a few laps of deserted street blocks to reconnect the hardwired bike riding skills stored in deep freeze memory to the limbs which would control the thing. Once out on open road and away from traffic it was a breeze and a very pleasant one at that. Queue Born to be Wild.


We got away from the kiosk eventually. A wet bum was had for a while, until the wind dried us out. We cruised on through a few villages, wishing I had some mean looking sunglasses to go with the Born to be Wild fantasy. After a while of small narrow remarkably well surfaced roads, we hit upon a huge double lane road in the middle of nowhere. This led into an equally impressive roundabout with monster Asmat style carving stuck in the middle. From there it just got weirder.

One of the branching roads passes underneath a giant Asian style entranceway with Selamat Datung and Welcome in solid wording above. The roadside is devoid of houses and is just covered in the usual lush tropical growth, yet there are street signs naming the streets. There is only one direction I want to take so we head through the grand entrance and away up a hill.

More street signs are passed until a grand gateway is abruptly reached. Hotel Biak Beach announces itself on the impressive sign next to abandoned security huts. Felled light towers block the gateway, so the bike is parked, the key taken from the ignition and we dismount to investigate.

The eerie factor notches up many degrees as we walk silently up to the monstrous buildings. Our own silence matches the buildings which although look grand from afar are ruined and decaying up close. This was once an impressive resort that had suddenly and disastrously collapsed upon itself somehow.

The once opulent entrance to the foyer is now covered in slime. Tiles of worth ripped from the floor and pools of stagnant water lay in their place. Grand columns covered with stylised designs now connect to a roof shedding its tiles, letting light and rain stream in. Bars and lounges are empty and decaying. Grand staircases lead down to water filled pits. Impressive fountains that have not worked for years show their brass tarnished spouts. Above all a haunting silence fills the place.

Spooky was an understatement and I didn't want to venture too far lest Jazz would somehow disappear. Anything was a possibility in this haunted hotel and it was starting to become too creepy. A man with a wheelbarrow silently wheeled it across the entranceway, no doubt from the latest round of looting. We followed after him to the little motorbike and went on our way.

Down the hill we went and it was not until here, viewing the structure from this angle, did we truly realised the scale of the place. There must have been over 400 rooms to the resort and now it stood vacant, empty and ominous like a painted Mayan temple.



A storm brewed again so we attempted to outrun it by heading west. This worked and we passed through Biak city again before deciding that we should journey off to another corner of this magnificent island. The guidebook mentioned a place where a river met the ocean and a waterfall nearby. Consulting out small map and stopping at a kiosk for refreshment and directions I was confident that we could make it there.


An hour of riding and we realised that we must have missed a turn off. Not only were we not near the coast like we should have been but we were nearly out fuel. Breaking down would have been diaster central. The phrase book was consulted and we stopped to find out where we were and where to get fuel at the house of a surprised family.

It turns out that instead of heading west, we were in fact heading north. Luckily there was a minor township ahead where we could get some fuel and as luck would have it a beach that we remembered being told about by our hotel manager. All may not be so disastrous.

At a road side kiosk, fuel was purchased in clear glass bottles. Helpful children did the honours of topping up the tank once it was worked out how to access it. An elderly man was keen to help and gave us some green coconuts to drink. Even though they seemed to be gifts for us as it was incredibly hot during the noon equatorial sun, we gave him a couple of thousand rupiah anyway.

From there we headed off towards the mentioned beach. A swim would be ideal as the sun was starting to take its toll. Passer-by's continually waved and we stopped to ask a few of them on the whereabouts of the beach. They keep telling us to go on and on, seemingly forever.

Finally we struck pay dirt. The beach was more perfect than we could have imagined in our wildest dreams. A golden arc of sand stretching with turquoise water lapping against it. Green lush vegetation and trees framed it on either headland, created a small perfectly bell shaped harbour.

Our bike was dismounted and we almost raced to see the view. The beach was deserted apart from a few figures sitting and talking underneath some trees. We had the entire salt water to ourselves and it was not long before we were plunging in. Reef, stone, rock, slime and weed free, it was best beach I had come across in my time in the tropics. Its only lacking was of waves of decent size. Paddling and swimming around would have to suffice.


Heading south along the same route that we had came along, we raced to return to Biak city at the arranged time of 3pm. We had not wanted to leave the beach but eventually we had to. Before we could escape we were met by a local man with his Foreign Tourist Guest Book. We signed our names, next to the mainly Dutch who get this far - certainly no Australians - made a "donation" and left.

The journey back seemed to take longer than the one north. We were starting to cut it close to getting Jazz back in time. On the outskirts of the city we didn?t even stop when the rain pelted down. So when we pulled up to the Ojek stand and dismounted we were saturated. Our little friendly bike owner raced over to meet us and we thanked him. His day had no doubt would have been a hard one spent gossiping and playing chess with his fellow Ojek riders. He would be keen to have us back tomorrow.

* photo by little