Science, Tech & Environment

Geo quiz and answer

For today's Geo Quiz we're looking for a city on the north coast of New Guinea.

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New Guinea is the world's second largest island, after Greenland. It lies a little north of Australia.

On a map, New Guinea displays its split personality. The eastern half of the island is the independent nation of Papua New Guinea. The western half includes the Indonesian provinces of Papua and West Papua.

It's a bit confusing. But we're looking for Papua's provincial capital. It's located right at the edge of Yos Sudarso Bay. And it's the jumping off point for an interesting trek into Indonesia's remote rainforests that we'll tell you about when we reveal the answer.

Jayapura, the capital of Papua, Indonesia is the answer to our Geo Quiz.

Danna Harman recently returned from a two and a half week trek to remote parts of Indonesia that started in Jayapura. You can hear our interview here and see some of Danna's photos here.

Harmon's goal in hiking through Papua's mosquito infested, muddy, humid, dense jungle was "to meet members of the Korowai tribe, said to be one of the very last groups of hunters gatherers in the world, who have very scant contact with outsiders. They wear almost nothing except for beads, sleep in tree houses elevated up to 60 feet in the air, and eat slugs and monitor lizards and cassowary, if they can get any, as well as, supposedly, humans from the rival Kombai tribe.

I travelled with a friend who is also a journalist, a guide who spoke Bahasa, a local guide with only one functioning leg who translated from Bahasa into the local language, a cook who did not stop smiling and only knew how to make white rice topped with packaged ramen noodles, and three teenage porters who leapt around barefoot while schlepping all our gear and saving me from breaking any limbs.

To get there, my friend and I flew overnight from Jakarta to Jayapura, and from Jayapura to Wamena, which is in the highlands. In Wamena we spent two full days finding a guide, negotiating the price (it is very expensive to do this trip, mainly because the motorized canoes and the small airplanes) and waiting for it to stop raining long enough for a plane to take off. We then set off from Wamena, by a tiny missionary plane, to a place called Dekai, which is on the edge of the jungle, on the Brazza River, where we picked up Lakor, our cook. We then got stuck in Dekai for two days as we renegotiated the motorized canoe and finally set off for a canoe trip down the river to a place called Maboul, which is a tiny Korowai village. There we picked up the rest of the team, and set off into the jungle.

Our days consisted, mainly, of hiking through the forest, which is a slow, and none too easy task. Its so humid that you drip sweat at all times, and there are insects everywhere eating you, mosquitoes, ants, spiders, slugs, fleas, you name it! You can barely see the sky, the tree covering is so dense, and often you have to thwack your way through brush to move a foot. Sound gets swallowed in there, so if someone is 20-30 feet ahead of you, you might not be able to see or hear them! On top of all this, its very muddy and often rainy and you find yourself slipping and sliding and crashing as you try to walk on fallen logs and not sink into the mud. The guides, meanwhile, barefoot, leap around as if nothing. Its wild. The guides were incredibly attentive and time after time, when I felt I was about to fall and break a leg, one of them appeared from nowhere to hold my hand and give me balance.

On most evenings, before ascending to the tree houses, we would try to find a stream to bathe in (before redousing ourselves with insect repellent!) Then, we would climb up into the tree house and share a small dinner (typically of sago root patties, unless of course there was monitor lizard, which I did not partake in) with our hosts as well as try to communicate with them. We brought along balloons, which we twisted into shapes and handed out, and were a big hit with everyone. When night fell, it was pitch dark and there was pretty much nothing at all to do. While we had flashlights we did not use them much because they attracted even more bugs and, without light, you certainly don't want to be moving around too much because you are suspended high up in the air and could very easily fall out of the tree.

I did ask them about cannibalism, and one man told me he had eaten three human beings, all of them from the Kombai, because, he said, they were suspected of being witches. He talked about how his family divided up the bodies with the neighbors and kept the bones as decorations for the treehouses. Now, I honestly don't know if this is true or not -- and some skeptics say that guides tell the Korowai to say such things because that is what outsiders want to hear, but, well, we were pretty deep in the jungle by then, and I don't think many outsiders come there to begin with, so I cant imagine why they would lie. But I really have no way of knowing!

By day seven, I was really tired and itchy and bruised from falling so often and more dirty than I have ever been in my life, but it turned out the way out of the jungle was also very exhausting and time consuming...we finally made it back to Maboul but from there we were stuck as we did not have a motorized canoe, so spent a day in a regular canoe, a night at a school teachers house in a place called Sepanap, and another two days in a small fishing village called Binam, before finding a boat to take us back to Dekai, and from there, back to Wamena by another missionary airplane. Whew."

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