The Dead man at Papuma

by Will Sanders on November 25th, 2009


Here I am, mugging for the camera.  I didn’t know that I was standing over a cliff which over looked a dead man floating in the tide.


I had written so much here, it was all about my new town, Jember.  It was about how I am here for two months and it is a very small town, I am once again the only foriegner here.  I talked about all kinds of stuff, but i really just want to tell you about the beach near Jember where I spend my weekends.  Here goes.

php0M3Fl4 Papuma.
The first beach of Papuma is the quietest.  It has dark sand and tall wave breaks, and from there you can see mamoth rocks jutting up out of the ocean surrounding the beach.  It is one of the most spectacular places I have been, and kiddies I don’t mind saying these last few years I have been some pretty damn cool spots.  I always have a top five places in my head, but sometimes you have to screw that list up and Papuma pushed aside a desert island in Thailand up to six, that is how holy shit beautiful Papuma is.
This was where I first saw the place and I remember I was dumbfounded. I collapsed in the shade of a palm tree in the sand, my heart was racing.   I sat there, not long, long enough to try to wrap my brain around where I was.
And I jumped in the water.  It was a perfect blue green and the surf pushed and threw me around like a rag doll.  Around the corner over some rocks is the second beach, half of which is the port of the night fishers, their boats painted in traditional colors with a point at either end shooting straight up.  This beach has white sand and the bottom drops right out, perfect for floating.  The huge rocks hanging over, the water so clear.  Man, yeah, perfect.
And the place was empty, a few people here or there, but mainly just me.  Standing in a perfect place all alone.
The first night I sat on the sand listening to Ayn Rand’s the Atlas shrugged on my ipod while drinking beers.  The stars where so deep and endless, the surf crashed on the shore pounding on the shore, the hypnotic sound.  And I watched the legions of fishermen pulling the small boats to the shore and jumping aboard for a night at sea.  I watched the boats leave one by one, the whole boat rocking violently in the surf as they pulled themselves up the gunnels.  When the wave rocked the bow the stern was pushed lower into the beach giving them a window of a few seconds to grab and pull up  before the wave made its way to the stern pushing the nose up in the air pulling the dangling fishermen with it.  Once they were all aboard their faces were lit orange by a lone light bulb, the only light in the night.  Off they went silently, the orange light eventually becoming one of several dots on the horizon far off.
Finally I went to my tent.  I set my tent up that day in an inland area where the park ranger had told me to.  The ranger was a formidable guy, big arms and huge neck but he had been helpful in telling me where to put my tent.  That night motorcycles raced by my tent every five minutes.  One of which had an engine like a 747 and the whole universe would rattle when he drove past the tent, missing me by inches.  And I had forgotten the pillow so I was rolling around and around, and there was sand on everything.  The last straw came at four in the morning when the dundut music started blasting.  They were setting up a stage next to my tent and wanted to test the housre PA.  I was so pissed, I got up and grabbed the poles, indignantly dagging the tent behind me like a child pulling an oversized stuffed rabbit by the ears.  I set up again on the beach, which is where I wanted to be in the first place, and didn’t sleep a wink.  So no sleep that night.
I saw the ranger who had put me in that spot, and I sort of lost it.  I payed him to low and could see in his eyes it was not cool.  I walked away.   Later, after reflecting on what a total dick I am I came back and found and gave him more money, but it was too late.  The guy looked like he wanted to hit me, he was big too, a little scary.  I was honesly terrified the way he grit his teeth when he talked.
That morning the fishermen I had seen leaving the night before started coming back with their hauls around five, the sun was already screaming full blast.  Trucks lined the beach with merchants buying fresh right off the boats.  People stood around arguing price, the flys and cats were going nuts from the whole scene.  The Fishermen all crowded standing shoulder to shoulder into the rear beds of huge dump trucks carring them back to the villiages in the hills all around, and motorcycles with gigantic wicker baskets straped on either side of the rear wheels carried away the loads and loads of small and large  fish.  It was done and over by seven, leaving my alone once again on an empty beach.
Next I figured I would grab a hearty breakfast of fried rice (nasi goreng) from the nice old lady with whom I had become friends with the day before.  I sipped coke from a glass bottle and watched the wonderful Papuma morning monkeys do their thing in the canapy.  They are long tailed black monkeys, with one golden monkey sticking out like an albino, the other monkeys trying not to stare out of politeness.
When the bill came I realized I only had a 50,000 bill (five bucks) which was way too high for her to break.  She said to go on and it was free, I slyly left the bill under a plate for her.  Later in the day when she had more change I came back and was greeted by her family like the king of all bule.  Now when I go to Papuma I make it a point to stop in on the old lady who greets me with a smile and a wink before disapearing to the back to fix me a big plate of her nasi goreng and bottle of coke wordlessly.  The monkeys don’t remember me one way or another, they dance in the trees if I am there or not.
The next weekend was the spelling bee in Jember, Eric the cowboy came to judge with a guy from Cali and as an added bonus my boy Allen showed all of the surprise, hollering “Hey Willie” from the back of the car as they pulled into Papuma Saturday night around midnight.  Up until then my boss/roommate Lilik and I had been sitting under the moon and stars trying to figure out the constilations, talking about the world and our lives and pasts and other sorts of shit that people talk about when sitting alone under stars on a perfect beach.  The rocks loomed in the shadows just past the surf break.  She is a fairly cool person to work for and a faultless room mate.
Lilik had been begging me all week to make sure that nobody got crazy drunk that night, she still needed them to work in the morning, but in the end it was her idea that nobody sleep in anyway whatsoever in order to see the sunrise, which made work the next day difficult for everyone, Lilik most of all being that she is the boss of the place.  Believe me when I tell you that the sunrise was easliy worth it.
 It was a cluster fuck day too, we had at least a couple of hundred paretnts past maximum occupancy (a very western concept it seems) crammed in the small school to witness the spelling bee when the power went out killing the AC along with pretty much everyones kind dispositon.  I led a class on pumpkin carving, watching Andre and Eric sweat it out.  No one could breath from the still hot air and at one point Eric actually told a spelling bee contestant how to spell a word out of exhaustion.
After the spelling bee we all got bleary drunk back at my place, Eric and Andre started yelling at each other about American race relations and that sort of thing.  I couldn’t join in, it felt so far away, it was like remembering something from a previous incarnation.   A moment of de-ja-vu, a strange familiarity I couldn’t place and I suppose didn’t care to.  After my third try at changing the conversation flunked out I set my attention to the task of  scraping at the label of my beer bottle in order to get the whole thing peeled clean like new.
The next weekend I went back to Surabaya to jam with a band I am working with back there.
The weekend after that found me back in papuma, oh yes it did!  Praise be!
The week before Eric and Allen and I had made plans for Papuma the following weekend.  Allen being a motorcycle guy and all around gear head had told me about an old second hand vespa going on the low low which may be worth a look.  I was to come to Surabaya on Saturday and ride out on it with the two of them screaming like bats from hell down to Papuma.  Like all good plans made over shit loads of beer it didn’t quite come off.  At the last minute Allen sent me a message that he had looked at the vespa and it was a piece of shit and not even worth buying at the tiny asking price, considering that I know nothing about fixing a vespa and would surely find myself stranded in a jungle someplace I would be well advised to pass.  We figured Allen and Eric may or may not come up Friday.  Meanwhile the Indonesians I work with had finally, finally, at long last come up with a plan everyone was more or less happy with to make the trip to Papuma Saturday night at midnight.  Don’t ask why midnight, just know that the Indonesians are not very good at coming up with a plan.  All of the other teachers I work with in Jember had spent the week waiting and expecting hopefully for me to tell them how they were to make the trip and where they would stay as I had done the inviting.  This is the Asian way, and maybe I am a jerk but I left it to them, and at some point in the eleventh hour one of them came to the horrific conclusion that I would continue to do so, forcing them to fend for themselves.  So they came up with midnight Saturday.  It wound up that one teacher couldn’t make it so when we went back Sunday we had to bring her a fish to show her how sorry and painfully we missed her presence, even though the only reason she couldn’t come was her mother had said no.  This woman is 26.
So half way there by taxi all by myself Friday I got a message that Eric and Allen were bailing on Friday night, Eric said he planned on getting up at six the next moring and gunning the four hour drive in three and a half.  I agreed that it would be cool and he should get up early and do that, knowing better full well.  The next day at three in the afternoon Eric finally answered his phone, they had gotten so wasted the night before he had just woken up, he explained.
I spent the whole day alone, on the beach.  Worse places to be, I figure.  I found a trail leading into the mountains.  After passing a lovers row of teenagers snuggling the trail took me to a ravine over looking everything.  I looked out on the horizon from one end of the world to the other, the water was blue-green, the sky was blue-blue.  Man, I just had to breath it in. 
It was one of those ‘holy shit I am so happy to be alive’ moments.  I am glad to report that lately I am having those more and more often.  I had a good childhood, I was happy then, but sometimes I think I might actually be happier now, not always just sometimes.  Then the Papuma monkeys demonstrated what a happy existance looks like, sitting on tree limbs hanging over the cliff eating fruit and screwing.  I hate being outdone by monkeys.
I watched them for a while, taking pictures which I knew wouldn’t come out right, and none of them did.  None of the monkeys anyway.
I spent most of the day floating in the water working on my sunburn.  At one point an eagle flew right over my head and dipped into the water to grab a fish and then off.  It happened in maybe half a second, and I spread my arms to try to gadge the wingspan, it must have been at least five or six feet.  It reminded me of when I was a kid on a boyscout trip sitting alone on a rock in Canada over a silent lake I asked aloud ‘God, are you up there?’ and a bald eagle buzzed my head and skimmed over the surface of the lake, as if righ on cue.  The Papuma bird sort of felt like being winked at by the big guy.  Maybe or maybe not, either way it was pretty fucking cool.
That night I sat at the old ladies place eating nasi goreng  with the ranger who wasn’t my enemy anymore.  We drank beer and I gave him a cigar to apoligize for being such a dick, he said it wasn’t necessary but he also took it and lit it with a quickness.  Jember, my new city has a cigar factory, by the way.  Hog heaven it is.
This is the rock where the man was washed away into the surf to meet his end.
The ranger was a nice guy, as most Indonesians tend to be, we talked about our lives, he showed me pictures of his kids, that sort of thing.  Then he started telling me a grim story.
Earlier that day he had come running out on the beach screaming when I stood on the sand admiring an area of rocks and surf.  He was yelling for me not to go near there.
Six days before, he told me in very broken English, a fisher had walked out to one of the huge rocks at low tide.  It was the perfect spot then, the water was calm and the fish teamed around the rock.  When it got later in the day the tide came in and waves began smashing violently against the rock, and it was now too late.  The shallow corral rocks he had waded across that morning were now almost shouldier deep fierce currents with jagged sharp rocks of all sizes underneath like teeth, once he was pushed off the rock his body was pushed around in the surf and his head smashed around into rocks, they don’t know if he drowned first or if it was the head injuries that killed him, but the body was not found until that night.  The ranger had put the body in a bag which he tied to the shore.  The area was blocked off with a piramid of small rocks which I had seen earlier that day but not thought anything about.  I don’t know the guys name, he was 27.
The Ranger said that the next day the police would come and watch him fish the bag out, it had been floating there waiting for this to happen for six days now.  The Ranger also told me about the guys crushed bloated face, the smashed eye, that sort of thing.  He then turned his attention to the old lady and her family, talking in Indonesian too fast for me to follow about the affair.
I picked up a few more beers to go and split.  I still had several hours before midnight when my Jember friends were supposed to show up.  I got word that Eric and his girlfriend had been in a motorcycle accident.  Nothing was broken but Eric was all busted up and nursing numerous gashes with his simarlarly busted up girlfriend.  The had skidded out pulling into a gas station and had a three hundred pound bike land on their legs, Eric could see his own knee cap, they had crawled in the first hotel they could find and would be there until further notice.  Allen sent a message that he would be another no show, but with no drama involved.
I was finally tired of being alone in Papuma.
I walked up a hill to a cliff over looking the ocean, the night was moonless and the stars were endless.  All alone that night I put on my ipod and listened to the Stax soul music catalog, Eddie Floyd, Booker T and the MGs, Ottis Redding, Rufus Thomas, the Bar-keys.  All alone under the stars, staning on a cliff above where the dead man bobbed in the tide, I danced.  I couldn’t think of any other way to kill the hours.  I danced my fool ass off too.
And at midnight the Indonesians finallay showed up, we once again stayed up until sunrise then saw no point in sleep.  In all my time at Papuma I don’t think I have ever had more than an hour or two worth of sleep at any given time.  During the night one of the girls I work with sat with me on the beach.  We held each other and gazed at the stars. 
The next day we played on the beach.  We made sandcastles and buried each other in the sand just like kids.  We were in the middle of splashing in the water when we were pulled out by a procession of police, lookie lews, and family of the departed gathered on the beach.  We watched three guys around a black inner tube come swimming around the point, we saw something white being drug behind them by rope.  It was the bag, the fisherman was finally going to dry off.  A crowd mobbed the bag when it got on shore, the news was there with cameras trying to get a shot of the body.  Somewhere in the middle of the crowd the dead man was removed from his bag for display, cell phones raised above the heads to snap pictures.  Somewhere in that crowd I imagine a mother cried.  People began running to push their way to the center.  I didn’t try to see it, I didn’t really want to.  I told my friends I would be in my hotel room grabbing a power nap.
Maybe an hour later I woke from my nap by a kiss from the girl from the night before.  And I could see in her eyes that the next time I come to Papuma it would not be alone.  And I had another of those ‘holy shit I so happy to be alive’ moments.
So let’s all raise a glass and toast no more lonely beaches.  And lets also raise a glass for the fisher man, may he rest in peace.

4 Responses to “The Dead man at Papuma”

  1. Amy Burke says:

    Those pictures are incredible Will! Although I am sort of enjoying the cloudy, gray days we are having here right now (it is November, after all), I am also feeling incredibly jealous imagining you sitting on that beautiful beach! I’m always so amazed at how easily you make friends and find adventures everywhere you go.

    Now I want to hear more about what you are doing in Jember, and most of all, more about this girl who is kissing you like a sleeping princess. =)

  2. mark says:

    Nice one…a story that seems to have all possible emotions wrapped up, gobbled down, jogged about then burped out… btw, what do you think about a backpackers there? and a girl kissed you? what crazy ass drugs did you miss out from the story ;)

  3. Marcus Rosentrater says:

    I remember you telling me that story about the God-send Eagle, flying in on cue. That was one of our last conversations before you left again for Indonesia. I miss you Will Sanders.

    As I was in the middle of that, reading about you dancing on a cliff in a remote part of the world alone, I just thought it would be so great to transport some of us there. In the dark, dancing. Just for 15 minutes. To say we’d done it. We’re here. No small talk, just being there together. Wouldn’t that be fun?

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