Mid - September 2003
We spoke frequently on the phone, (time zone made this very
difficult), as he didn’t want incriminating information exchanged through an
email. I needed to get a firm date established so I could arrange flights and
my business schedule, but this was proving extremely difficult, it kept
changing every few days.
My contact emailed me saying he’d
been contacting his people in Timika many times but so far they still could
not give him a final confirmation whether we can enter Timika on October 1st
or later on Oct 6th. The night before he had told me he received information
from Timika, which required us to revise our schedule to a later date as the
Indonesian Army Force, had an anniversary that might cause their people to be
very busy around the base for a few days. He was still hopeful it could work
with our time schedule. I had a speaking engagement on Oct 16th, so
I needed to be back on the 15th or leaving on the 17th.
My agent stated that because a date isn’t
firm, I shouldn’t purchase my plane ticket until he got confirmation regarding
a firm date of departure.
Every few days another tentative “firm
date” would crop up and then have to be revised. Revised schedules, plans and
commitments seemed to be the order of the day. I kept thinking how anyone who
didn’t own his or her own business could work under this system.
The Expedition was
confirmed; I needed to be in Jakarta on October 19th fly out the
early morning of the 20th to Timika. Airline tickets confirmed and
paid, equipment packed, I was ready to go.
October 10th, 2003
I received an urgent
email from Jakarta stating that I now had to be in Jakarta by the 17th
to catch the 3.00am flight to Timika on the morning of the 18th. I
guess I should have expected this. I immediately called Jakarta learning that
the Army Intelligence wanted us to be going through the mine on a Saturday
night vs. a weeknight, as there was less activity during this period even
though it operates 24 hours a day seven days a week.
I scrambled into
action, not only changing my flight, but also cancelling the Oct 16th speaking
engagement I had booked, as I would now have to leave Canada on the 15th
a few days away. This would only be the beginning of situations to come.
October 15, 2003
I left Calgary, Alberta
and arrived in Jakarta at 1.10 PM on the 17th, 27 ½ hours later. I
was met by the agent’s representative and escorted to the waiting vehicle. It
was nice to be back in a hot and humid climate. The one-hour drive to the
hotel in Jakarta was slow and tedious, traffic crawling with dense air
pollution and congestion that seems to make Bangkok’s traffic seem extremely
We arrived at the Ibis
Hotel, I checked in, showered and went downstairs to meet the three climbers
from South Africa who would make up the rest of the group. We would now depart
the Hotel at 2.00am for our 5.00am departure to Timika, only 5 ½ hours flying
time away, but a Stone Age in time.
We touched down at the
Timika Airport at 1.10am. The airport was built by Freeport Mine Company in
order to bring in workers, equipment, supplies etc. We certainly stuck out
like a sore thumb as we entered the terminal and waited for our gear to be off
loaded. We were approached by Military Police, Airport Security, Mine Security
and Army personnel, all of them asking the same question, why are we here? We
gave vague answers never alluding to Carstensz, but in reality whom were we
kidding. I avoided their questions by having taking photos of them. There is
no tourism in the Timika area itself, the only reason Westerners would be
coming here is for Freeport Mine business or to climb Carstensz. Out of the
110,000 people living in and around Timika, 80,000 of them are non-Papuan who
have come to work for the mine or min associated jobs. I am told they do not
venture out of the town.
PT Freeport Mine
This mine is the worlds largest Gold and copper mine with an
estimated 40+ Billion dollars in reserves, therefore it is very secure. The
Indonesian Government has its hand in for 20 % and uses it’s army to patrol
not only in the mine site but around it as well, keeping out so-called Rebels.
Aside from the Indonesian Army you have Military Police, Freeport Mine
security, and Airport security that are constantly on the lookout for
foreigners or non-Freeport employees coming to the area. Indonesian
Government's largest taxpayer is Freeport Mine, who on average pays out $180
million a year in taxes and royalties. Freeport employs about 18,000 people of
which 5,500 are from West Papua.
Our agent had come over
to Timika a few days earlier to make sure all the logistics were in place and
going according to plan. 30 minutes after we arrived our agent met us with an
Army escort, he hurriedly pulled us through the terminal exit into the
awaiting vehicles. We were told to keep the windows rolled up so we wouldn’t
be seen as we driving through Timika. We had arrived and it was only
We stopped for lunch 20
minutes down the road. He told us the plan was to get us up into and through
the mine immediately so we could get to base camp by early morning. I finished
eating the Nasi Goreng dish I ordered. It’s a very tasty Indonesian fried rice
mixture with a fried egg on top. I would get to know this dish very well over
the next week, maybe a little too well. We were met by an Army unit and
transferred into two of their Land Cruisers, one for equipment and one for us,
they would take us on our journey through the mine. These Land Cruisers were
Army issue, two seats and a consul up front, three passenger bench seat behind
with two side seats in the very back where we sat. It had blacked out windows
all around, with a thin 6-inch high strip running across the driver’s
windshield where someone standing outside looking in would be able to see into
We were off, crammed
into the back of the vehicle working our way along the only road leading out
of Timika. We had to get through six armed security checkpoints without being
seen. We were again assured all logistics were in place, as it had all been
arranged prior, but even so they explained the precautions we had to take. We
first needed to get safely up to the Freeport mining town called Tembagapura,
up at 6500 ft, taken to an Army safe-house, change to another vehicle which
will take us through a mountain for 1 hr 15 minutes in an underground tunnel
where we will again change vehicles just out of the tunnel, and then taken to
the upper Army outpost shack at the top of the mine called Post Carstensz.
We sweated profusely as
the sweltering heat in the back of this Land Cruiser was stifling, we couldn’t
roll down the windows for fear of being seen and caught, and there wasn’t
air-conditioning. We each drank litres of bottled water as we ascended from
sea level to what would eventually be 11850 feet later that evening at the
upper Army Outpost.
Throughout our drive,
our agent told us interesting snippets of information about the mine and
Carstensz. He mentioned how back in 1994/95 the mine had allowed climbing
expeditions to pass through their property. This ended when journalists from
Germany (unknown to the mine) filmed the mine site and distributed film and
photos to the media around the world showing the environmental devastation
that the mine had caused over the years. That ended the mines cooperation with
climbing agencies except for a few rare circumstances where access was granted
through high up channels in the US.
He told us how the Mine
has actually encroached upon the National Park, slowly excavating away these
massive mountains. I was getting a condensed history lesson.
Our vehicle was being
driven by an off duty army officer, we had his commander, a 2nd Lt
(who along with everyone else will remain nameless) who was our agents top
contact in charge of coordinating all the Army personnel etc. He would
accompany us with four of his men to Base camp, protecting us from the Rebel
forces who they frequently have firefights with.
Along the way we
crossed a bridge and passed over silt infested river that carries to the ocean
a continuous daily deluge of mine tailings. I couldn’t believe the amount of
Mine and military vehicle traffic on the road, huge transport vehicles as well
as these Land Cruisers. The road had started out smooth but as soon as we left
the town it got to be very rough. We bounced around in the back of the truck
having to hold onto anything solid to stay on the seat and not crush the
person next to you. The going was tough over this pot holed gravel road. We
were three big guys and a smaller woman crammed into an area that might have
been 4 ft by 4 ft square. We had been drinking so much water because of the
heat, and now with the constant vibration we needed a pee break, luckily we
stopped at a military outpost hidden off the road. We had stopped to pick up
two more soldiers who would accompany us up to the mine.
We now had to don
military clothing, caps, hats and jackets etc, to help camouflage us in the
back of the truck. We were coming up to the most crucial security checkpoint
at mile 50. I could sense the nervous tension in both the Army personal, 2nd
LT and our agent. The windows are blacked out so that you cannot see into the
back of the truck, but that didn’t relieve the nervousness that permeated as
we tried our best to blend into the seats making sure not to make eye contact
with the security guard who approached the truck as the driver rolled down the
window 6 inches. Even though people had been paid off you never new what could
or would happen next. We were certainly out of our element.
We made it through the
first checkpoint with no problem, relief showing on our agent’s face, a big
nervous released smile. Everything was cool and optimism was in the air. From
this point on we started to rapidly gain altitude, it had started to rain, the
inside windows started fogging up. I had been filming discretely in the back
and was amazed at how these roads had been carved out of the sides and tops of
these mountain ridges. Many times we were driving through rain and cloud
perched precariously on a ridge that plummeted straight down on both sides.
You honestly would have to be here to really experience what we were feeling,
seeing and doing, this was out of a James Bond movie. We passed cascading
waterfalls, shear cliffs and drop offs, thick rainforest, an amazing view to
us all. As we looked out we pointed and gestured in awe of the scenery, we
sounded like kids out for the first time.
The steep roads
certainly were taking their toll on the driver and us. We were now nine
crammed into the truck as it laboured up the steep grades, sliding us into
each other. The driver would stall the vehicle out at times as he tried to
down shift. I kept wondering how vulnerable we were in the back of this thing
should he misjudge a turn.
We started climbing up
a grade that appeared to be 20 degrees as we ascended about 300 ft every
couple of minutes, passing through this beautiful rainforest and rock
formations. We again had to stop for a pee break and came to an open level
area that was shrouded in cloud and fog. We were parked at what was thought to
be a hidden secure area, some mining equipment was scattered around, I got out
to film. A few minutes later a couple of vehicles approached our location,
myself an two others scurried back to the truck while another hid with a
soldier behind a bin waiting for the chance to get safely back to the vehicle.
I captured this event unfolding on film, all the time thinking how were we
really going to get out of there, exposed, risking getting caught just because
someone had to take a leak.
I thought how we should
really all be using pee bottles in the back of the truck instead of risking
being seen outside the truck. Little did I know what would come four days
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