|My life in a suitcase|
My first port of call was to our newest Porter base in Merauke in the far south east of Papua. This was a place I’d been to over four years ago when I was a co-pilot on our caravan fleet and I didn’t exactly have many fond memories of the place. The surrounding area is flat. And I mean totally and utterly flat. The highest things around are the trees which sadly are all being slowly burned down to make way for palm plantations or mining sites, but I digress.
|If you needs ferry tanks, your destination is probably to far away!|
Flying wise things don’t get any better sadly. The contract our Porter is flying in Merauke is an old Merpati Airlines one for which they were using Twin Otters. As you can imagine the seven seat 120kt Porter isn’t exactly the best choice for such routes! Still, needs must, so with ferry tanks attached I prepared my bum for the 2.3 hour legs between Merauke and Ewer.
|WWII Marsden matting runway at Ewer, Papua|
Still, there are a couple of interesting places, despite the distances between them. Ewer (or Asmat as it’s also known) is an old World War II airstrip which was constructed using Marsden matting. This stuff is a series of interlocking metal plates which provides a smooth and flat surface to land and take-off from. Even in the wet it offers a much better braking action than grass does and is considerably more durable. The fact it’s still in use today some 70 years later is testament to it’s design!
|Manggelum in the jungles of the south Papuan flatlands|
Manggelum was probably the most challenging airstrip from a technically point of view and probably only suitable for a Porter due to it’s surface condition. It’s an odd feeling slowing down mid-takeoff run when you plough through a large boggy patch. Thankfully the 500m of length is more than enough for a fully laden Porter.
Yaniruma is not an especially interesting village or airstrip but the area is home to the Korowai people who are most famous for their tree house dwellings. Sadly the nearest one to the airstrip is around an hours trek away, so I didn’t get time to check one out properly but if I’m ever there again I’ll be sure to organise something. The best I could find was a couple of unfinished houses near the airstrip which still looked pretty neat:
|Unfinished tree houses of Yaniruma, Papua|
The town of Merauke itself does however have one thing in it’s favour. Crocodiles. There’s hundreds of them and because of that there’s a large trade in crocodile leather goods which can be purchased for very reasonable prices. $18 USD for a men’s leather wallet is very reasonable, especially when you can watch them hand crafting it in the tiny workshops out the back of their shops.
|Merauke crocodile leather|
Thankfully I didn’t have to stay in Merauke too long and was replaced by a colleague who was equally delighted to be stationed there. My next stop was back to my original base of Timika where I will, in theory, be for the next month or so. I’ve not been flying much here recently due to a dose of the old gastroenteritis but should be back in action next week all being well.