Travel | Jayapura

A Jaunt in Jayapura

Text and Photos by Chriswan Sungkono

Be it the stately profile of cloud-crowned juggernauts, or picture-postcard beaches fringing the Pacific Ocean, Jayapura has no shortage of natural spectacles to feast the eyes on. However being Papua’s largest city, splendid scenery forms but a part of its charm.

A lone woman paddles across Lake Sentani in her boat

Down below, a breathtaking view unfolds before you. A jagged array of mountains carpeted in green is rendered golden by the first rays of sun and straddles two bodies of water-one a lake, the other the planet’s vastest ocean-which gleam with a intensely penetrating blueness. Ones eyes are held in a thrall for minutes on end and then, finally, you land.

The mesmeric beauty of Lake Sentani, but a stone’s throw away from the city’s airport, is reason enough for travellers to make a stopover en route to the city centre. However even before you reach the lake itself, you might find yourself yielding to the cajoling of your local friend, guide or driver and end up paying an unscheduled visit to the MacArthur Monument atop Mount Ifar. Constructed to commemorate the leadership shown by US General Douglas MacArthur during the World War II battles of the Pacific, the site is actually more impressive for the panorama of the lake that it commands than it is for its three-metre-tall, shield-shaped war memorial.

The closest you can get to Lake Sentani without getting your feet wet is by enjoying a bite to eat down at any of the restaurants that dot the lake’s perimeter. Some of these eateries, such as Aseifa and Yougwa, are more popular than others, though the menus at all of the restaurants are by and large the same. There are succulent fish to enjoy here (pulled from both the lake and the sea), which come accompanied by a gooey, clotted serving of papeda, the traditional staple of coastal Papuans.

Impressions of the lake, however, should not stop with a tasty serving of fish. Indeed, there is no better way of experiencing Sentani than by paying a visit to the various lakeside villages. As a rule of thumb, the more secluded the spot, the better the scenery.

Hop onto a rickety wooden boat down at the pier and ask for a ride around the serene lake-scape, which boasts both enchantment and immensity and which is inhabited by easygoing natives. You’ll barely notice the hours slipping by.

Such tranquillity contrasts strongly with what you’ll experience in Abepura, which lies midway between Sentani and Jayapura. As a burgeoning district of commerce and education, Abepura is a somewhat more frenetic proposition and features tricky traffic, unending street-level hullabaloo, and a discordant symphony of loud music and car horns.

Yet ever looming behind all of this chaos lie the Cyclops Mountains, towering limestone giants that are dappled by lush rainforest and which are much beloved by naturalists and biodiversity enthusiasts. These peaks offer a relaxing diversion from all the cacophony below. And then there’s Skyline...

Most people stopping by at Skyline select one of the coconut-vendors’ shacks, order up a young coconut (fact: expect to pay double for added syrup or condensed milk), and sit on a bench with their eyes transfixed on the greenery below and the various hues of blue that are sharply separated by the horizon. Skyline offers a vantage point whose scope is arguably second to none, from the city of Jayapura to the far left, to the hulking Humboldt Bay and its geological progeny, Yotefa Bay (AKA “the bay within a bay”) and a glimpse of Sentani to your right.

A strategic base for your Jayapura jaunt, the city centre is explorable on foot and is comfortably replete with hotels. The most recent arrival in the area is the Horison, which lies situated just minutes away from the main thoroughfare. Nearby stands the Aston, which leans toward business travellers, and the longer-established Hotel Yasmin and Hotel Matoa. Once you’re sorted, it’s time to take a closer look at Jayapura proper.

As far as local markets go, Pasar Sementara Mama Mama Papua (literally: Provisional Market for Papuan Housewives) down on the main drag gives you a full-on feel for how Papuans engage in trade. The buyers and sellers down here shift household goods, fresh fish and basic groceries, and the market brims with energy deep into the night. For some traditional local attire (think beyond the classic koteka male genitalia sheaths worn by traditional Papuan tribesmen), as well as artwork and handicrafts, Hamadi Market is the place to browse and bargain.

For dinner, purveyors of fresh seafood such as Rumah Makan Maros, best known for its grilled grouper and four sambals (spicy dips), are the locals’ favourite haunts. And while Jayapura is not expressly famed for its street food, if you pay attention as you walk, then Nasi Kuning Mandra should soon stray across your radar. With several branches open around the city come evening, this joint’s hearty portions of yellow rice and richly-cooked meats are well worth sampling. The most popular branch is located down in the Dok V area, en route to which you’ll be treated to a glimmering display of Jayapura’s pretty inlets and city lights.

Humboldt Bay seen from Polimak Hill

Spend the evening watching locals hang, mingle and feed down at Kursi Panjang (Kupang), an extensively long stretch of seating (hence its name, which translates as “Long Seat”) overlooking the bay. Located in the Dok II area right in front of the Governor’s office, Kupang may be low key in terms of looks, but at the weekends this is where the city’s pulse is located.

Should you prefer a more secluded spot, drive up to Polimak Hill, one of Jayapura’s highest points. This is where the outsized, Hollywood-style letters that read “Jayapura City” stand illuminated amongst signal-broadcasting towers, and is also where an unbeatable view of the entire city spread out down below, its bright, pointillist lights set against the pitch-black canvas of night, can be enjoyed.

In the morning, a spectacular sunrise is in order atop Angkasa, yet another significant apex in this city of hills. So named due to the sensation offered of being so high up in the sky (“angkasa” means “space” in Indonesian) this is a perfect spot for a little blissful escapism, not mention a gorgeous photo opportunity. Weather permitting—for few things in Jayapura are more whimsical than her weather—on a clear day you can’t help but being smitten by the sight of the boundless expanses of turquoise and azure that comprise the lip of the Pacific. Keeping you company up here you’ll encounter the occasional soaring bird, plus an entourage of butterflies foraging in the bushes. Meanwhile, below the horizon, the city’s houses, buildings and ships stretch out before you, their sun-kissed forms and stark shadows dotting her savagely contoured visage.

When you think you’ve had enough of all of this grandeur, it’s time to descend again, have a spot of breakfast and consider taking a stroll along the beach. For that, however, you might wish that you had more than just a single day at your disposal.

How to get there
Garuda Indonesia flies from Jakarta to Papua via Makassar vv seven times per week. Public minivans are available within the city as a method of travelling. However, it is generally advisable to book a tour guide in advance as the routes may prove to be difficult to navigate.

Photograph: corbis (3)