Last Saturday, I walked barefoot through the jungle! I never imagined that I would one day do this. And I must admit, it took me quite a bit of willpower to actually do it, but it was a great experience.
We went to our dive guide’s garden again because he told us that he sometimes sees the bird of paradise there, early in the morning. Having never seen this exotic and beautiful bird live, I wanted to join. From our last visit, I knew that walking through the mud with flipflops was no option. And wearing sneakers would have meant having to throw them away afterwards, because I would never be able to clean them again. So, the best way to do it was like the Papuans – go barefoot.
My colleague and I, both non-Papuans and first time barefoot-jungle-walkers, started following our dive guide who was leading us through his jungle at a very speedy pace. The ground was completely muddy and wet which made it very slippery. Sometimes, we had to wade through puddles or cross little streams. More than once, I imagined myself head down in the mud or hitting my back or head on a big root after falling backwards. And I was trying not to think of all the dangerous or yucky things and animals I could step on! At one point, our guide showed us a dead snake on the floor – very comforting…
My colleague and I couldn’t quite manage to keep up with our guide as we were still watching closely where we put our feet and had to balance the slippery parts. Our guide, on the other hand, walked with confident steps as if on a soft meadow. Once in a while, he used his machete to cut his path free of dangling roots or branches. It felt a bit like Crocodile Dundee, except that our guide was not wearing this big Aussie hat. But the machete was just as impressive as Dundee’s…
We didn’t see the bird of paradise, but it was a beautiful walk, nevertheless. Our dive guide pointed out many plants and trees that didn’t seem special to me at first sight. But when he started to explain what they can be used for – either food or medicine – I was impressed. It wasn’t the first time that I noticed how much knowledge about traditional medicine and healing therapies the local community has. They live very close to nature and have learnt from their ancestors about the effects of plants, roots, herbs, flowers, etc.. And this isn’t limited to Papuans. In many other areas of Indonesia, the knowledge about natural medicine is big too. People use it successfully and many a westerner is surprised to realize that it actually works, while sometimes our highly developed pills and therapies don’t seem to have a positive effect at all.
But, back to my bare feet and the jungle! We walked for almost two hours, climbing up and down hills and a beautiful little waterfall. At first, I was afraid to slip on the rocks that our guide was quickly climbing up on. But then I realized that they were not – as one would expect – sanded down by the flow of water, but still offered a firm grip. Slowly, I started trusting my feet again, feeling that they can give stability without the help of cleverly designed sneaker soles.
I also realized that my balance was not the best compared to the Papuans accompanying us. Even though I have been walking barefoot through the sand a lot on Pulau Pef, I am still more used to artificial even floors and to wearing shoes than to slippery surfaces and uneven grounds full of hidden obstacles. It actually felt good to know that I can still trust my body, that it hasn’t forgotten everything about nature yet, even though I am a city girl. And when it started raining – no pouring! – I didn’t really mind. I was wet anyway, from sweat and mud alike.
When we got back to the resort, I was really happy to take a shower and wash the sweat and the mud off – because one barefoot jungle stroll doesn’t make me a Papuan yet!
But it was an experience I will never forget, and for that I am very grateful.
I never even dreamt of working on a remote island in Indonesia, but life has a way of taking care of itself…