Manokwari is one of the unsung adventure centres of Southeast Asia. Jack Orchard sets out to explore the historical city on West Papua’s north coast. (Words & Images by Jack Orchard)
As the plane banked over Manokwari Bay I caught my first glimpse of the jungle-clad peaks of the legendary Arfak Mountains and endless sweep of beaches and coves that make up the dramatic coastline of New Guinea’s Bird’s Head Peninsula.
I remembered a travel article I’d read recently about the two so-called ‘wilderness trekking capitals of the world’: Cape Town was described as a wonderful city with impressive mountainscapes and Rio de Janeiro is stunningly beautiful with its two sprawling urban rainforests. Even from the moment that the plane began to descend into this jungle gateway on West Papua’s north coast, however, I was struck by the feeling that humble Manokwari could one day have the potential to compete with both these world famous metropolises.
Driving away from the airport I had the impression that, as befits a jungle gateway, this little city is bursting with verdant growth that erupts out of every untamed patch of land. There’s a feeling here that if the city’s 180,000 inhabitants lose concentration for just a few days the jungle will begin to reclaim everything in no time.
From the window of my suite that first morning I looked out over the swimming pool of the Aston Niu Hotel across a riot of jungle vegetation that is punctuated only occasionally by low rooftops.
From this point I could look westward to receding chains of rearing mountains that stretched in a dramatic series of jagged peaks and mist-shrouded valleys all the way across New Guinea island. As the access point to what might be the world’s most exciting jungle island, Manokwari could surely be one of the great draw-cards for adventurous travellers.
The city even has its own Table Mountain (Gunung Meja) and, although not rising to the same scale as Cape Town’s, it is topped with statuesque trees, unique birdlife and jewel-like butterflies the size and colour of Fabergé saucers. While Rio is still a very long way from the tribal communities of the Amazon, a mere four-hour drive out of Manokwari brings you to the traditional territories of several of Papua’s proudest and most resilient tribes. It is estimated that there may be as many as 700 tribal languages spoken in Papua and a great many of them can be heard even in the city centre, among the clatter and chit-chat of Manokwari’s central marketplace. In a single afternoon here you might meet smiling tribesmen and chatty stallholders from more than a dozen local tribes with musical-sounding names: Kuri, Simuri, Irarutu, Moscona, Sekar, Tohit, Imeko, Tipin, Maya, Biak, Serui, Asmat, Dani…
You can buy souvenirs here in the form of fine Papuan carvings and the traditional koteka phallic gourds that are still worn by highland warriors on ceremonial occasions. At the entrance to the market a group of smiling women work, with deft and supple fingers, to weave the noken bags that are used by almost everyone in Papua. Some are ornately beaded and decorated with slogans; others seem at first glance to be simple net bags. But they are carefully woven from tree bark, and even the simplest noken might take days to complete.
The thing that is most instantly noticeable about Manokwari’s vibrant market – apart from such disturbing local delicacies as turtle and flying-fox meat – is the incredible array of fruit and vegetables on display. New Guinea boasts the whole range of climates (even occasional snowfall in the highlands) and along with great heaps of betelnut the market stalls here are loaded with guava, rambutan, lychees, papaya, mangoes, mangosteen, rose apples, custard apples and pineapples. A dozen types of bananas are stacked next to piles of the world’s creamiest, sweetest durians.
Although Manokwari is sometimes called ‘Fruit City’, the most commonly heard name is ‘Bible City’ since it was the landing place of the two German missionaries who first brought The Bible to Papua. On the waterfront by the city’s oldest church I stopped to photograph a group of small children who were jumping off the harbour wall. Two of the children were named Otto after one of the pioneering missionaries. Across the bay from us on Mansenam Island I could see that work had already started on the base of Manokwari’s own 30m-tall statue of Christ.
This statue, based on the famous icon in Rio de Janeiro, will face across the water towards the town and the rearing plateau of Table Mountain. Neither the statue nor the mountain can claim to compete with those other global icons in Brazil and South Africa. It’s been said many times, however, that great things come in small packages, and Manokwari has a unique spirit of wilderness adventure that is hard to match. (Credit to : Colours the magazine of Garuda Indonesia)
Birds of Paradise
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