This morning was a true expedition morning. The scouting party went out to find the best sites to visit during our Zodiac cruise. Beautiful McCluer Gulf is dotted with raised limestone islands covered in dense tropical vegetation. Constant wave action has carved into the rock, causing a surrounding indentation at the waterline.
Numerous rock art sites can be found in the area. From the Zodiacs, we got closer looks at the ancient designs, which showed the outlines of handprints, fish, and other objects. The images were created by holding the object against the white limestone wall and applying the bright red pigment around it. The white limestone cliffs make the perfect background for the paintings.
We were also rewarded by sights of beautiful little beaches, lush vegetation, and soaring ospreys and Brahminy kites.
In the afternoon, we visited the town of Kokas. We were greeted by lots of children who seemed as excited about our visit as we were. After a beautiful welcome ceremony, we walked up to the town square. A bamboo and palm frond stage had been set up for us. After a speech from the mayor of Kokas, we saw three different dances by the girls and women of the town. After the cultural displays and the explanations by our local agent, Lex, we were treated to a tasting of the local cuisine. We were offered delicacies like sago pudding, mussel saté, and fish soup.
We spent the rest of the afternoon exploring Kokas. Our walk took us to the Catholic church, the Protestant church, and the mosque. The different religious buildings in such close proximity are a testament to the religious diversity of West Papua. Peaceful coexistence and tolerance of the three religions is a philosophy known as satu tungku tiga batu, or “one furnace three stones.” Thick-walled bunkers and extensive tunnels, on the other hand, attest to the Japanese occupation of the area during World War II. A well-kept soccer field was full of girls and boys of all ages, and groups of local women sold produce and betelnut from their stands by the side of the road. Many of us were escorted by giggling groups of children who were proud to show us around their colorful and bustling town.