Thursday, 13 October 2005
Vanimo, PNG: “Do you sell any rupiah?” we ask at the hotel reception desk. “No” is the reply, one we’re used to by now. We had intended to buy some rupiah before crossing the border – to pay for a taxi to Jayapura on the other side (and the LazyPerson’s travel guide warns a bribe at the Indo border office is required, and when reporting to Immigrasi in Jayapura. However, turns out that at neither point are under-the-table, back-of-the-passport, nudge-nudge-wink-wink deals necessary.).
We asked at the bank, but they don’t sell it. We asked at the moneychanger named in the travel guide – down back of X Trading, a supermarket, we walk up flight of stairs, knock on door, door opens a crack and we get peered at. But they’ve sold out. We go one to ask at every supermarket in town. And even ask at the car dealership. Nowhere has any rp.
On the morning of border-crossing, before going to the Indonesian consulate to collect visas, we ask at the hotel. It’s pretty much the last place in town to try. But again ‘no’. We walk on to the consulate. Car drives up, beeps and pulls over. Driver looks Philippino; no one I know. But he says something to us; I don’t catch it, but I can see two fat bundles of rupiah next to him on the passenger seat.
Half on, half off the road, he whips out a calculator (brand new, price tag still stuck on) and as other cars pass we make a deal. 3000rp for 1kina. Doesn’t vary if we buy more/less; this is a fixed rate, “good price”. We swap cash and he counts it all out, carefully and visibly.
“Are you from X Trading?” J asks. How did he find us? “No – X Forest Products” he replies. I stifle horrified laughter. XFP are well-known for screwing over local communities and raping the environment. Under various business names, they own most of the town. Including our hotel (…join the dots). Here we are, doing roadside deals with the devil.
With pretty visas and wads of rp, we’re set to go, and wait for the pmv we’d arranged earlier to take us up to the border (it’s a 45min drive away; a red pmv makes the trip every day). Unfortunately, we’ve been stood up, and so instead of a 10kina trip in a bus we hire an old, decrepit yellow taxi for the bargain price of 100kina. Still, it gets us there and the drive is good; I love the tropics.
On the Indo side, our taxi is a new Toyota kiang. On comfy (plastic-covered) seats we zoom down and around to Jayapura, listening to Boney M of all things, loud (in my brand new guide book bhasa I’d asked driver to play some music, and this is what we got).
An hour and a half later, we’re in a city! An Asian city! Motorbikes and cars; traffic again! Music. Mixes of different people. KFC. Mosques. Dirty. Busy.
Perhaps a bit stunned by it all, we make idiot travel faux pas: booking into the first room we see. (It looks like the Chunking Mansions in Chunking Express: too many men squeezed into single rooms, scheming.)
In the middle of the night I sit up in terror as I hear rats scuttling in the wall behind my head.