The village of Faui is situated alongside a clear mountain river at the edge of the towering central mountain range. The world’s only tropical glaciers and highest point between the Andes and Himalayas, the Carstenz Pyramid (Puncak Jaya) loom above, hidden in the clouds. The people of Faui and surrounding area speak a tonal language (comprising 8 tones), Iau. Though a completely different language than Fayu, it is descended from a common Lakes Plain language.
Travel to the interior requires prior approval and travel permits, known as a Surat Jalan. You must check in with both the police and military outposts (if present) at each location you’re traveling through. Faui has both a small military barracks of about 8 men and a police outpost of around 4. While everyone is friendly, these positions are held by Indonesians on hardship rotation from Java and other non-Papuan islands. Their facilities are protected by rows of 50-gallon drum barrels filled with rocks: there is a fine line between law enforcement and an occupying force, but right now, relationships seem to be good.
We stayed with Janet in her village house, spending the remainder of the day setting up our sleeping bags and mosquito nets, as well as helping Janet unpack. Alistair, master of all electronics, got to work hooking up the solar panels and diagnosing a faulty inverter. The boys had their first taste of sago though declined the roasted grubs that came along with it.
This was my first visit to Faui. My parents had visited on occasion, including a trip my father and brother made canoeing across several river systems and trekking through the jungle from Fayu territory to Iau. At the time, it was the only place with a functional airstrip to catch a ride on the Helio Courier back to Danau Bira.
The village includes a school and a basic medical facility, along with the government posts. Villagers live in huts spread out between fruit trees, vegetable gardens, and pathways. Chickens with identifying bits of string tied to a wing or leg, pigs, and dogs roam about freely.
We spent the next couple of days introducing the boys to village life, bathing in the river just before dusk, going to bed shortly after sunset, and rising at daybreak.
We decided to go out on a jungle trek the day after our arrival. The trail through the jungle was challenging. I had already sunk knee deep into the mud on several occasions and was faced with the realization that I was no longer a 20 something haphazardly gallivanting over tree trunks and through swampy river beds.
Now to my defense I was wearing my sandals. Unfortunately, though, they only contributed to my fall as I slid down a muddy embankment landing firmly with my sandals half off on top of a layer of sago thorns. The inch-long thorns embedded themselves into my heel as well as the bottom of my left foot. I was already behind the others (got to stop and smell the roses) and now was saddled with the task of pulling the thorns out of my foot. The two Faui villagers with me and I had a bonding moment. Sago palm thorns as no fun to pull out.
Giving the injured foot a rest, we took a dugout canoe several hours upriver to the village of Tirumo the following day. There is nothing like a spending several hours on a river weaving through the jungle landscape, how I had missed this! There is something about the never-ending sea of green that is compelling and calming.