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Published: February 10th 2019
The ferry that will take me to Fak Fak
I’ve reached the islands that have got travellers mouth wagging for the last few years, the place to be, the name you casually throw in the conversation to show how cool you are, to see others salivating at the thought, wanting to be you, to be there, to have seen what you have seen: Raja Ampat!
So Raja Ampat is a hype, but is it also as good as people make it out to be? Is it worth spending your scarce money on it? Is it worth the inflated prices? That’s a difficult question to answer, because it depends on the person you talk to. Let’s start with the facts. The fact is that the prices are not at all in line with what you get. The price for sleeping in a simple hut with a mattress on the floor and a mosquito net with or without holes in it, and a shared squat toilet out back, is over the top. Even if it includes three meals a day. Especially since quality varies (particularly the meals, which can be delicious and sumptuous at one home stay, or meagre, monotonous and barely enough at another), while prices remain more or less
VIP accommodation on the ferry
They say you pay for location. Perhaps you do, but I have stayed in beautiful locations for half the price and gotten far more bang for my buck. An over the water cottage? I paid less for one with a fan, a real bed, a western bathroom, and two balconies overlooking turquoise waters full of turtles and healthy corals in Derawan of the coast of Kalimantan. A secluded beach cottage with pristine jungle behind you? In the Togean’s you can get one for half the price, including private bathroom, and the meals will be much better. Access to great coral gardens? Banda has fantastic corals. White sandy beaches fringed by coconut trees? Kei Islands. The combination of all those traits in one place…? Perhaps. There are few places that match Raja Ampat’s diversity.
But my gut feeling is that the prices are high because they get away with it. Don’t get me wrong, I am happy for the Papuans living there, and I don’t blame them. Every homestay I stayed in was owned and operated by a lovely family, and if my money contributes to the development of the remote communities on the islands that is
Final view of Kaimana
great. The only thing that worries me is that it skews their perception of us, and whether all of this is sustainable in the long run. Will we keep on paying ever higher prices for a mattress on the floor? And will they try to get away with skimping more and more to make a bigger profit? If you are raking in 30 dollars per night per person for a room (so for a couple you are getting 60 dollars for that room!), and you can’t be bothered to fix the mosquito net, or buy a new one, that says something. If you serve the same meal over and over again for that price, it also is taking things to a new level. If fruit is too expensive for you to provide in a tropical environment where bananas are plentiful and mangoes fall from the trees, or if you serve pot noodles with a boiled egg for dinner you are taking the piss. And I heard plenty of grumbling on that department from other tourists. And when you ask 20 dollars for a 10 minute boat ride, that doesn’t sit well either.
Food and transport prices, so far, are
Nearing Fak Fak
the main annoyances for those travelling Raja Ampat. That and the rats! However, for now we grumble and we keep paying, because… Well it is Raja Ampat and it is the latest fad. It remains to be seen how long this fad lasts. And with new homestays popping up by the dozens every year, and livaboards dumping truckloads of divers at the most popular spots on a daily basis, something’s gotta give as they say. There is only a certain amount of tourists an environment can take before it starts degrading. And once it starts degrading Raja Ampat will not be the hot spot anymore, and as quickly as the tourists came they will leave again, in search of the next pristine islands to rave about and destroy. So, you might argue, inflated prices might not be such a bad idea to keep out the hordes, and avert disaster. It doesn’t seem to be helping very much so far.
Ideally I would say that the best way to preserve Raja Ampat is by setting a quota on the number of tourists that can visit the islands every year. Besides I don’t like the idea that only the rich should
It rambles up the hills
be able to visit them, turning it into some exclusive play resort for the wealthy. A healthy mix of accommodation options, together with a quota would be the fairest option. It isn’t going to happen of course. Money talks, nothing else.
As for me, what did I think of Raja Ampat? It’s beautiful, obviously. The reefs are amazing, but are they better than elsewhere? Not sure, the abundance of healthy reefs was something I noted as special. The sea-scape was interesting, but there too I have seen similar before. I liked the fact that most homestays consisted of only 4 or 5 bungalows, often in secluded bays, so it never felt crowded, and there was often a Robinson Crusoe like quality to the experience. I also was thrilled about seeing Birds of Paradise. As a whole the jungle environment, the sounds of birds singing and insects humming, the waves lapping the beach, the night sky full of stars due to lack of light pollution, swinging in a hammock watching a perfect sunset, or being able to simply enter the water and be surrounded by coral and fishes wherever you went was a fantastic experience. Yes, I thoroughly enjoyed Raja
Ampat and as a result I’m broke! Such is life.
Not to limit this blog solely to Raja Ampat, I will now speak shortly about what came before. Because there is always a before and after to a story. And the before for me was Fak Fak, and Fak Fak was the after to Kaimana which was the subject of my last blog. Fak Fak (and yes it is pronounced like the F-word), is a pleasant enough town rambling up the hills and along the coast of the Bomberai peninsula. There are some beaches either side of it, and on the long island (aptly named Long Island in Indonesian) that lies opposite it. I went to the most easily accessible one on the mainland, because with Raja Ampat coming up I was trying to save every penny I had. It was alright, a sweet little village full of curious locals (but not too curious) was more interesting. On the other side of the peninsula there is another small town called Kokas, which has some WWII relics, in the form of Japanese tunnels and such. The tunnels were empty, save for trash and not very exciting. With money you can
View from the balcony of my hotel
charter a boat to take you to some ancient rock art down the coast or to karst islands for some snorkeling. I wasn’t willing to spend that money because of… Raja Ampat.
To be honest I spent most of my time just wandering around Fak Fak, or sitting on the balcony of my hotel, waiting for the boat that would take me to Sorong. Just as I am now waiting in Sorong for the boat to my final destination in Papua. I won’t have to wait long though, it leaves tomorrow. Papua has one last chance to squeeze the last of my rupiahs out of me before I go home, I’m sure it will succeed magnificently, it hasn’t failed so far.
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