Raja Ampat SEA Centre
Papua Explorers Eco Resort was founded in 2012 with Tunc, Serkan and Tari as co-owners. It took them several months before construction started in November 2012. The site was on a pristine beach, the Pinsilim Beach, near Yenwaupnor Village, Meos Mansar District, Raja Ampat, West Papua. It all started with a dream and a vision. Building an eco-friendly dive resort that would satisfy any diver’s dream of exploring the underwater wonders of Raja Ampat. Armed with government support, enthusiasm of the local people and wooden poles from neighboring villages, the team started their mission of constructing a world class establishment.
The crew consisted of 50 Papuan men from Yenwaupnor who divided themselves into 5 groups. Each group was given responsibilities to build a jetty, a restaurant and initially ten overwater bungalows. In Indonesian we call them “pondok”. The main jetty was set to be 125m long. The main instruction given to them was that it needed to be straight, sturdy and symmetrical. Mind you, these men did not have any prior experience of working for other people (other than among themselves and other villagers), let alone working for foreigners!
The only communication that they had between them and their foreign employers were Tari, the Indonesian partner, and some skilled workers from other parts of Indonesia, namely from Manado city and Java island. Both Tunc and Serkan were used to the city and western work ethics and they brought with them “modern” know-hows. On one side, we had local people with their traditional ways of doing things. And on the other, city slickers armed with discipline and project targets. Needless to say, everyone had a steep learning curve to get accustomed to. 🙂
The vision was to build an establishment that would embody local, traditional aesthetics with modern comforts. Just like for traditional Papuan huts and jetties, we wanted to use local wood and leaves. We sourced those from the neighboring villages. With only a small genset and adequate power tools, the crew set off on a mission that would take 11 months to complete. People might say that it was a surprisingly short period of time to build a resort. But trust us when we say, it felt like forever with no ending in sight!
Why did we feel that way? Well, first of all, we were after all on a remote island with no power source. Also, no telephone connection (let alone internet!), no fresh water and far removed from civilization. We didn’t have fast speedboats back then. That meant the nearest civilization would be 2 hours away with a small, narrow wooden longboat. We had only the sea in front of us and the jungle at our backs. So we lived and worked like Robinson Crusoe on a deserted island. Well, not entirely true, but it sure felt that way, espcially for the owners! All three of us were used to the convenience of city life where everything was in abundance and readily available.
Time sure ticked ever so slowly on a remote island. The disconnection to the world forced us to get creative in spending our time. And also be more efficient in managing time and resources. With no stores in sight, missing a small crucial tool for work could send a project to a standstill. At least until we could send a wooden boat out to Waisai or Sorong. Those are the nearest cities in Raja Ampat which were for us 2-4 hours away!
One of the most amazing parts about the construction was the innate ability of the Papuan crew to plant wooden poles into the ground without any machinery. They would each take turns in putting their body weight in and push the poles deep into the sand. When we first saw this, we were astonished and dismayed at the same time. “That’s it, at this rate, we will finish the resort in 2 years time”, we thought. We tried to be helpful by providing a machine that might help them speed things up a bit. But nope, it took them even longer to learn to operate it. And so the machine was abandoned.
Slowly, slowly… things started to take shape. Pondok 1 until 10 were coming up nicely. The main jetty was near perfect. Then there was one of the biggest challenges that we faced: the restaurant. We wanted a unique, traditional style restaurant that would blend nicely with the pondoks. But we wanted something different too, one that would set it apart from the rest. And so it was decided to make it circular shaped with circular thatched roof. In Indonesia, you see this type of building in Bali, Sumba, Lombok, Java… But the local Papuans had never built such structure before, so they didn’t know what to make of it. It was easier for them to grasp making the pondok and jetty as they resembled their own. But a circular restaurant? They did not have a clue. Neither did we, to be honest.
But we persevered and our Manado workers put on their thinking hats. They tried to design the structure using the same local natural resources. Those were kayu gatal (itchy wood), kayu besi (iron wood), bamboo, daun bobo (bobo leaves), daun nipa (nipa leaves) and other local materials. No one in Raja Ampat had done a circular structure before (all were rectangular). So we did not have any example to study on. But after 6 months of trials and errors, we finally completed the restaurant. And a beauty, it was. We were particularly proud of it as it was a new thing for all of us. The Papuan workers were most proud as they could see how beautiful, unique and strong it was. And they were the ones who built it!
Once we completed the main buildings, everything else followed suit. The staff quarters, storage room, laundry, kitchen, genset & compressor rooms, dive center, and boats were added along the way. We readied ourselves to greet our first diving group. 13th October 2013 was the date that Papua Explorers officially opened its doors to the public. It was an adventurous 11 months full of learning, discovery and cultural adjustments. A period of time where we will look back upon with fond memories.
Our hope and wish is that Papua Explorers will strive to stay strong and successful. So that we may continue to please divers coming to Raja Ampat. Continue our good work in preserving the surrounding pristine environment and supporting the local communities. Keep us in your prayers as we navigate through this rough year filled with trials. Stay safe and healthy so that you can travel and visit us in Raja Ampat!