In Sorong, I felt like I was in a foreign country where strangely enough, all the locals spoke Indonesian. It was the weirdest feeling. I can’t pinpoint what it was that makes West Papua feel so different to the rest of Indonesia and what makes this feeling even more difficult to identify is that there are the familiar sights that I have seen throughout Indonesia such as kaki lima (food barrows) selling Javanese food, shops selling pulsa (phone credit) and the strangest thing of all was listening to a local answer his phone with ‘Asalamualaikum’ (Peace be with you). The local people (orang asli) here are very different physically to the rest of Indonesia’s people and resemble more our Australian Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islanders. So can you imagine how weird it was listening to a man answering his phone with an Islamic greeting? Maybe this is because I am Australian who grew up in the Top End (NT).
My first overall impression of the township of Sorong is that it reminds me of Pangkalan Bun (Kalimantan Tengah) when out on the street. The roads are flanked by wide stretches of dirt and once out of the main township, the shops and buildings are set back off the street, maybe to put as much distance between them and the dust as possible?
We went to the night market (pasar malam) for dinner that night and caught up with Vaast (the Belgium from the Labobor) again. While from the street, the pasar malam looked just like any other pasar malam throughout Indonesia with the kaki lima’s under huge canvas awnings and the benches and tables set up underneath, shielded from the road by long rectangular material signs promoting the food available, the one thing that set it apart for me was that in front of each was a brazier filled with red hot coals and then behind it, a silver topped slanted table covered with a selection of partly grilled fish and squid.
Vaast ordered one of the squid, Ichal some chicken and I had cha kangkung (water spinach). We chose to sit in the open area at chairs and tables behind the kaki lima selling drinks where we could see the night lights of the township over the bay in which Sorong is located. The food was beautiful and more than enough considering I hadn’t eaten since lunch at 11:30am! Afterwards we chatted briefly swapping information that we each had picked up about getting to Raja Ampat and what to do there.
I briefly left them to it for a while to stretch my legs and have another look around the market. I was curious to explore the stalls at the other end of the market and see if anyone sold anything different. I was particularly looking for es campur!! However from one end to the other, almost every stalls sold only grilled fish or variations on cha Kangkung (eg. cha sawi).
Set up right in the side of the road near the parking lot, I found one small stall which differed from all the others. It was a small table set up with pinang, sirih pods and tiny packets of chalk.
The seller was doing a steady trade. It has been a long time since I have seen so many people chewing on betel nut. People who are eating betel nut look like they have a huge wad of bubble gum in their mouth. It used to be more obvious because their mouth and lips were red however now, it’s not always the case! Eating betelnut here in West Papua appears to be very popular amongst all ages.
We had less than a day altogether in Sorong, We caught the first boat out the following morning to Raja Ampat, so all in all we were only there for 18 hours. However as Sorong was my first entry into West Papua, those initial impressions of puzzlement always come to mind whenever I think about Sorong, West Papua.