…we lived in a far, far away land in a teeny, tiny town in the middle of a ginormous rainforest. You’d never believe this place. In this land, waterfall streaked mountains stand as high as the sky. It’s a place where clouds, filled with buckets of rain, move like smoke, and the ground shakes and slides. Trucks as big as buildings rumble inside the earth scooping up rocks and boulders full of copper and gold. Bullet proof choppers whirl in the sunshiny skies while fleets of white Toyotas and monster buses bounce around the rocky roads below. It’s a place where Papuans hoot and holler from mysterious places, and where loud speakers broadcast calls to prayer. It’s hard to believe that such a crazy land exists, but it does. We saw it with our own eyes. The end.
For many expatriates, returning home is often the most difficult and challenging part of the overseas assignment. Cross-cultural experts warn returning citizens about the dark side of repatriation, which involves developing a deep sense of not belonging. Expatriates commonly feel disconnected from their host country and strikingly disconnected from their motherland.
When we moved back to the U.S., we were prepared to tackle this part of the experience head-on, but we never felt disconnected. In fact, we transitioned back to the Phoenician lifestyle in a way that felt like we had never even left. Our life pieces fell into place seamlessly.
However, as the weeks and months passed, we began to realize that our life pieces from Indonesia were rapidly moving into the periphery of our existence. Occasionally, they would surface, but only for a fleeting moment before retreating back to their hiding place. As much and as hard as we tried to make them fit, they wouldn’t. It became clear that we needed to let that part of our life go.
That’s the hardest part of repatriation – letting go.
Somewhere, forty-thousand feet above the Pacific Ocean, Chris is quietly looking back on the past three years of his life, and preparing for the future. He will miss working at PTFI, the most challenging and rewarding job of his career. But, his feet are faced forward as he prepares to tackle new projects and responsibilities. No matter what the future holds, he will always have the bragging rights of having lived and worked in Tembagapura!
With Tembagapura-sized holes in our hearts, the girls and I are back in Arizona adjusting to life in the desert. A place where spirits of cowboys and outlaws still roam. Including America’s most famous vigilante, Wyatt Earp, who made history from the legendary shootout at the O.K. Corral.
Phoenix’s harsh and unforgiving terrain, amplified by triple-digit temperatures, is a severe change from Papua’s rainforest. It’s an ideal place to get heatstroke, step on a barbed cholla, get bit by a rattlesnake, stung by a bark scorpion, chased by a javelina, or trapped in a haboob. Tempered by spectacular sunsets and the summer’s monsoon, Arizona is a place where we are happy to be and to call home.
Our adventure in Indonesia has come to an end. We’ve met some amazing people, had some incredible experiences, traveled across the globe, and filled a lifetime of memories in three years. It’s been hard living the crazy life, but we’re realizing that it’s even harder leaving it.
The girls and I left Tembagapura this morning. Chris, who will join us in Phoenix toward the end of July, is returning to the corporate office where his job will send him back to Tembagapura for quarterly visits. Unfortunately, for the girls and me, it’s the end. We’ll never have another opportunity to ride the chopper up or down the mountain, hear a Wednesday afternoon alarm, eat dinner at the Lupe, or enjoy a mountain thunderstorm. And, there will never be an opportunity for a Sunday afternoon drive through the old neighborhood to see how it’s changed. Not ever has a move felt more permanent!
Every story has an ending, but this isn’t it. Stay tuned for a few more posts as we experience repatriation ….
When Ally and Kylee’s feet climbed the steep, metal steps of the school bus this morning, a dizzying array of emotions surged through their bodies as they prepared for their final day of school in Tembagapura. Feelings of excitement, trepidation, sorrow, gratitude, anger, fear, joy, and relief continued to follow them as they got off the bus and walked into their classrooms. Their emotional day was gradually quelled by the realization that they had the very unique opportunity of attending “the world’s most isolated school,” and by knowing that they will always be part of its history.
Before moving to Tembagapura, Chris worked in Freeport’s corporate office as part of the global health & safety team. His responsibilities included quarterly visits to PT Freeport Indonesia (PTFI, Freeport’s affiliate in Indonesia). Each visit would end with a new collection of pictures and stories, which he would eagerly share with us upon his return home. We saw many remarkable photos, never imagining that, one day, we would see those fantastical places for ourselves.
One of PTFI’s biggest and brightest gems is the Grasberg open pit mine. It’s regarded as the world’s largest gold mine and third largest copper mine. Sitting in a valley below two of planet earth’s few equatorial glaciers, and 4,300 meters above sea level, it’s a mining marvel in the clouds!
Leaving Tembagapura without a tour of Grasberg would have been an injustice on many different levels. So, at the eleventh-hour, Chris arranged a tour of the mine for the girls and me. Heavily clad in steel-toed boots, safety vests, hard hats, and safety glasses, we traveled by truck and tram to see it with our own eyes.
In this unique mining town, community events with live auctions pave the way for acquiring items that are inherently complicated to get. Sometimes those items include unique pieces of artwork, electronic devices, or a giant tub of Red Vines. Whatever they may be, they always produce spirited and playful moments of competition and rivalry among friends and colleagues.
Chris recently attended a school fundraiser where a drone was auctioned off. I wasn’t there to see or hear the excitement unfold, and Chris’s story is a little vague, but he locked the winning bid and arrived home with the flying contraption. And a big, dimple-studded boyish grin.
Since his bidding blunder victory, Chris continues to release his high-tech toy into the skies above jobsite as often as he can. The drone has gone to unreachable places and spaces to capture some of the most stunning views around us. Views that we have never been able to see and appreciate until now.
The following video is of a flyover of Hidden Valley (our neighborhood) that Chris took earlier tonight. The video includes distant shots of Tembagapura, Rainbow Ridge, the helipad, the road that leads to the mine, the road between Tembagapura and Hidden Valley, and the road that leads to Timika. As you will see from the video, we really do live at the far edge of civilization!
To view some of Chris’s other drone videos, click on this link.
Everything that has a beginning has an ending. Including our family’s adventures in Indonesia. After three years of living the strangest, most extraordinary life imaginable, it’s time for us to pack our bags and return to suburbia.
The bittersweet countdown to this epic adventure begins next week when Chris’s replacement arrives to jobsite. A strategically planned two-month transitional period will allow the girls to complete the school year, and give Chris ample time to hand-off his projects and responsibilities. It, also, gives us more time to soak-up and enjoy the things that we love most about this experience.
By mid-July, we will be back in Phoenix, with our knees under our dining room table, establishing a new beginning. Albeit, a less adventurous beginning; but, nonetheless, a new beginning.
Our vacations are most meaningful when they take us by surprise for a richer, more profound experience. This vacation transcended that expectation. With its formidable energy, the spirit of Africa engulfed us. It was impossible not to recognize a deeper sense of being and a genuine connectedness to nature while traveling through the strikingly vast and arid lands of Namibia.
Namibia lies in the southwest corner of Africa. It shares borders with the Atlantic Ocean, Zambia, Angola, Botswana, and South Africa. Namibia is the world’s thirty-fourth largest country, and one of the least densely populated countries in the world. It is an unparalleled world of deserts and dreams.
Our adventure through Namibia started in the country’s capital, Windhoek. Our late evening arrival provided us with just enough time to lighten our duffle bags and get a good night’s rest before beginning our fly-in/fly-out safari, a specialized tour that uses chartered Cessna airplanes to access remote lodges and bush camps.
By the next morning, we were flying over Namibia’s expansive terrain to reach our first destination, Sossusvlei.
Sossusvlei is located in the southern part of the Namib Desert, the oldest desert in the world, and Namibia’s most spectacular attraction. Vast open spaces, endless horizons, and a tranquil sea of burnt-orange sand dunes characterize the naturally preserved environment. It’s a place that almost seems too perfect for this world.
After an hour of flight time, our pilot, Fabien, made a sensational decent toward and onto a rugged landing strip in the middle of the Namib Desert. In absolute awe and disbelief of where we were and how we got there, we were speechless. It was the first of many indescribable moments to come our way.
After two blissful days in Sossusvlei, Fabien returned to pick us up to continue our journey through Namibia. On our way to the next destination, Damaraland, we took the scenic route and soared above an abandoned, century old diamond camp and skimmed along the Skeleton Coast before stopping in Swakopmund to refuel, fix a broken brake line, and change pilots.
A little more off the unbeaten path, Damaraland’s strikingly untamed terrain impresses the most critical bush trackers. In one of the driest, most desolate regions of Africa, it’s rugged mountains and broad plains offer some of the most spectacular views. For wildlife enthusiast, sparse green valleys provide ideal locations for tracking and locating the rare desert-adapted elephant.
One of the funniest stories from our time spent in Namibia happened during our first night in Damaraland. Around 2:00am, Chris, the girls, and I all woke up to the indisputable sound of loud, heavy tramping noises behind our tented-chalets (large, heavy canvas tents under thatched roofs). Thoughts and visions of mischievous elephants or hungry rhinos filled our minds. With no artificial light outside the chalets, it was impossible to see what was moving around us. After a restless night of wondering what large creature visited the camp, we rushed to breakfast to find out. It turns out that the wild creatures that widened our eyes and made our hearts beat just a little bit faster were donkeys! Yup, donkeys! Not even a rare desert-adapted donkey. Just your typical cart-pulling, people-carrying, grass-grazing donkey.
Etosha National Park
Our third, and final destination, was one of Africa’s great game parks, Etosha National Park. The park supports 114 species of mammals, over 340 species of birds, and a salt pan that can be seen from space. Some of the best gaming views in the park take place during the heat of the day when predators are inactive and, therefore, many of the animals feel safe to visit waterholes.
Fabien, Martin, and Wings Over Africa
Some of our favorite memories from this trip came from the time we spent with our pilots, Fabien and Martin. Their specialized training in aerobatics and aircraft recovery gave them the ability to make our flights a little more exciting with abrupt dives, ninety-degree angles, and skimming the coastline within yards of the waves. Those moments easily stand on their own to create an extraordinary experience.
Martin, who spent more time with us, elevated the girls’ experience into a “once in a lifetime” experience by letting them fly the plane! Their faces have never shined so brightly or looked so happy than their time in the co-pilot’s seat with the yoke tightly gripped in their hands.
I’ll be back in two weeks to post more pictures and stories of our family’s adventures in Indonesia (and beyond)!
Giant, hairy creatures with human-like qualities have been a topic of popular lore and fascination across the globe for centuries. In Canada, it’s the Sasquatch. In the U.S., it’s the Bigfoot. In the Himalayas, it’s the Abominable Snowman. In Australia, it’s the Yowie.
Most scientists are not convinced of its existence. In fact, they attribute sightings of these elusive beasts to elaborate pranks or misidentified animals. The Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization (BFRO) believes differently. It claims to have documented hundreds of credible sightings of Bigfoot throughout the U.S., Canada, Russia, China, Malaysia, and Indonesia.
The Bigfoot phenomenon has been a nebulous subject that I haven’t put a lot of thought into. Until now. Yesterday afternoon, a small group of geologists were following a mountain trail to reach and survey a rock outcropping that stands above a housing complex. When they approached the final stretch of the trail, they observed a large, brown object swiftly moving in front of them. One of the men managed to capture footage of the strange looking creature before it abruptly plowed through and disappeared into the thick undergrowth.
This was a frightening, yet, extraordinarily facsniating experience for the geologists. In their 7-19 years of employment with PTFI, not one of them has ever seen or heard of anything like it. What makes it even more startling is that the Irian Jaya Mountain Range is home to a strikingly low population of wildlife. There is nothing more in the rainforest than a diverse populace of bird species and a small populace of tree kangaroos that are similar in size to domesticated cats.
The geologists believe they encountered an orang pendek, Indonesia’s Little Bigfoot. Their stories, and the highly sought after video, are spreading around jobsite and in the Indonesian media like wildfire. Whatever it was, it’s inexplicably intriguing!