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TIMIKA, Irian Jaya, Indonesia (September 24, 2000 – Jakarta Post/Kabar-Irian)---Few Indonesians have a chance to visit Irian Jaya, let alone see a little-known trio of lakes nestled in a stunning mountain backdrop.

The lakes were first recorded in the 1920s by a Dutch mountain expedition to the Jayawijaya mountain range, about 1,100 meters (3,630 feet) above sea level (the same expedition also discovered Cartenz Peak, with its rich copper and gold deposits).

During the Dutch colonial rule, the seat of administration for the mountain range was established in the town of Enarotalia. After the transfer of power to Indonesia in the 1960s, the administrative capital was changed to Nabire, a coastal town in the north.

Enarotalia has fallen behind it and other towns, including Wamena, in its development. Today it is the capital of Paniai district, with the status of an administrative district, but its main attraction is its natural beauty.

Enarotalia is home to three lakes -- Paniai, the largest of all, Tage and Tigi. They are close to each other, separated only by mountain slopes. Paniai may be as large as Toba in North Sumatra, and the three lakes combined would make the largest lake in the country.

Flooding sometimes occurs during heavy rainfall.

The hilly town of Enarotali is located on the edge of Paniai, amid great beauty which is virtually undisturbed by the intrusions of modernization.

The town is cool during the day but the temperature is bitingly cold at night; a walk across the entire town takes about two hours. Visitors can cross Paniai to other villages such as Kebo and Obano in a canoe made from a carved-out tree trunk. It takes about six hours from one side of the lake to another in the canoe, but only one hour if a boat with a 25-HP outboard engine is hired from the local church or administration (their availability hinges on the supply of gas).

The tribespeople who live around the lake are the Me, one of the major tribes of Irian Jaya, numbering about 100,000. The Me was the first mountain tribe to establish contact with the outside world; the people are known for their strong character and more individualistic traits than other mountain tribespeople.

The Me use the lake as a source of freshwater fish and also raise pigs, which to them are currency and often used as dowry.

Getting There

The lake can be reached by one of two ways. Visitors can fly from Jakartato Biak or Timika. After spending the night in Biak, they can take a Twin Otter aircraft run by Merpati to Nabire. Merpati has three flights a week from Nabire to Enarotali, but those in a hurry can arrange to hitch a ride on a Trigana company cargo flight or a single propeller AMA airplane owned by missionaries.

In Biak, Timika and Nabire there are quite a number of hotels charging about Rp 100,000 (US$ 11.40) a night, not including meals. For non-budget travelers, the Sheraton Timika offers a special rate of Rp 350,000 (US$ 39.91) for Indonesians.

If you set out from Timika, you must file a request with the Timika friary for an AMA plane a week before your scheduled journey because the service is only upon request.

However, tourists usually take the Merpati flight, which is half the cost of the AMA (thanks to heavy government subsidies for the "pioneering undertaking). The Merpati fare from Nabire to Enarotali is Rp 165,000 (US$ 18.81); the fare is Rp 350,000 (US$ 39.91) on the AMA service and the baggage limitation is 10 kilograms (22 pounds).

Enarotali's airfield has no surrounding fence and is located directly next to a market. The landing of aircraft is an interesting spectacle to the locals, providing them with a diversion from their daily activities.

There are no porters and visitors must carry their own luggage. The lone hotel in the area is a five-minute walk away. The roads in Enarotali are about three meters (about 10 feet) wide and they were only asphalted to welcome the arrival of the vice president to Enarotali last May.

There is no danger of being caught in traffic jams in this town. There is only one automobile, a Suzuki Escudo, which is owned by the district head, and one Suzuki motorcycle, owned by the local administration. Locals prefer walking to going by car or motorcycle because of the exorbitant price of gas, about Rp 10,000 (US$ 1.14) per liter (about a quarter of a gallon).

The hotel is located behind the town's only telecommunications stall connecting it to the outside world. The room rate is Rp 110,000 (US$ 12.54) a night, meals included.

If you are a guest of the Catholic Church, you may stay in the friary or nunnery, more comfortable digs with delicious food. They also have books on the history of the lakes plus old photographs of the area.

Building Trail

There are few old buildings in the area; among them, only the vocational skills hall (SKB) has not fallen into disrepair and continues to be used.

The SKB building, measuring about 30 meters x 10 meters (99 feet x 33 feet), reveals traces of its past glory when it was under the management of a Dutch nun. The building has two floors and a wooden staircase. The upper floor is for a dormitory and a library and the ground floor for practical experiments and classrooms. Toilets and shower facilities are located outside.

The prettiest house in Enarotali belongs to an American missionary priest. Built about 30 years ago in the style of U.S. farming architecture, it has a fireplace, a library, kitchen, a living room and several bedrooms. It affords gorgeous views of the surrounding countryside, although many parts have been denuded by local people for firewood.

To know how the locals live, venture down to the houses of fishermen by the lakes or the round-shaped thatch homes of farmers.

Visitors should bring suitable attire as the area is known for its cool climes and heavy rainfall. Do not forget a jacket, hat, thermos, gas lighter, first aid kit, sturdy shoes, flashlight and batteries.

KABAR-IRIAN ("Irian News") Websites: http://www.irja.org/index2.shtml and http://www.kabar-irian.com 

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