Travel into inner Papua can be relaxing when commenced with a visit to Lake Sentani, a scenic beauty over glittering water located near Jayapura, capital city of Papua. The stillness of the water is most peaceful, evoking a peculiar wonder whether such a lake should indeed exist in paradise. The embracing Cyclops Mountains to the north and the lush vegetation as backdrop, securely protect the twenty four villages surrounding the lake. The people here are friendly and creative, carving their reputation among the best craft makers in the land of Papua.
To best experience the excitement of boating on the lake, rent a motorized canoe available at one of the villages. The guide who has taken you on the overnight tour from Jayapura will show you where to get one of the dugout canoes. Experience the thrill of being caressed by the warm breeze while speeding on the lake, photograph the stilt houses, know the local, and make friends with your guide, and eventually boldly brag about it in the travel blogs.
Lake Sentani and its surrounding areas was once the training field for amphibious aircraft landings. It was built by the Japanese and taken over by the US Army in 1944. American war legend, General McArthur was said to have gazed on the lake and its 22 islets, and came up with his victorious island-hopping strategy.
Living as fish farmers, and the close location to the provincial capital, are reasons why most of the population around the lake are open to visitors. Stilt houses with ponds and nets are common landscapes. The lake is home to at least 33 species of fish, of which almost half of them are native. The Sawfish (Pristis microdon) was once the premier host of the lake, which today is said to have become extinct. This fish is one of the indigenous ornaments found on Sentani’s woodcrafts. Hang one of these items on your wall as a mark that you have been dramatically introduced to the wilderness of Papua.
In the village of Taturi, stone paintings are a wonder worth visiting. Located on a small hill at the bank of the lake, it is a sight to record while canoeing. Another village offering a beautiful daytrip is the Doyo Lama, a place for rock painting art. It is a fantastic start to understand the culture of Papua.
Remnants of World War II scatter around the lake as it was an important command headquarters during the war. On one of the hills, on Mount Ifar, a monument has been built to commemorate American General McArthur’s military command in the Pacific and his victory. Many visitors consider it a must see tourist attraction as it also offers a spectacular view of the lake with as its background the Cyclops Mountains.
Villages around Lake Sentani have different customs, yet originate from a few common cultures as evident from similar beliefs and rites. The Isolo, for example, is a ceremony that unites the diverse cultures in the 24 villages around the lake. It is a ceremony staged when merchandise are delivered from one village to another. It can be also be seen as part of the Lake Sentani Festival staged during the month of June.
Asei Island is one of the artist’s homes in the vicinity of the lake. Asei islanders are known to create interesting motifs painted on bark cloths. Bark cloth is a traditional apparel for Sentani women, and mostly women are those who catch fish on the lake. Among the motifs are spirals that symbolize the swirls of Lake Sentani, there is the crocodile, the sawfish or swordfish of Sentani, as well as combined motifs found in the Asmat Tribe like the bipane, a wild boar tusk symbol, and Asmat human figures. The sale of Asmat motifs at Lake Sentani is one of the unspoken understandings among the Papuan artists.