This man is really flying! – how to baptise a documentary film project

Hiiumaa is a place of magic in Estonia – an island that happened to provide the setting for our first shooting session into the Soviet hippie trail.

Sountrack for the post:

By the time the nights went light in Estonia – in the end of June we have indeed an awesome period of white nights here when the sky gets especially hallucinogenic – our team of hippie trail through Soviet times had grown bigger by young promising producer Liis Lepik who took the courage to lead the game behind the matter of subject where me and Kiwa had already lost our heads.

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Poet based in Hiiumaa – Ave Alavainu

We cruised out of Tallinn on a huge jeep ruled by one of our most adventurous friend, known as Fabrique. It was promising a storm, the wind was huge and sky threateningly dark, but we only had a little tent, filming equipment and a crazy idea in mind to catch the ferry to an island Hiiumaa. Namely, one Estonian poet Ave Alavainu is living there and what could be better that to start our journey with a female voice. Ave used to center the avant-garde social life in late sixties of the university town Tartu, reading her lines in the university café along with other progressive thinkers, such as catalyst-provocator Johnny B Isotamm. Btw Johnny B gained a personal myth of being the leading hippie of Estonia, as one foreigner in café in Tallinn once gave him a badge “Make love not war”. Wearing it publicly was already a statement enough for Soviet era.

Ave used to be the vagabond lady, hanging out with various crowds, constantly in love. Later on in Tallinn she used to live in a apartment  where she never locked the doors – because the doors are supposed to be open, in order to let the energies flow.

There we were – in the ferry, hopelessly steering into the dark sky. We had agreed an appointment with Ave for the next day, but the night was still young. But just as we saw the first sparks of the setting sun making its way through the thick gray of clouds we suddenly remembered – one legendary drummer from 1970s Paap Kõlar, the founder member of progressive-experimental awesomeness band Psycho, hasn’t stopped advancing his human capabilities attached to the social fabrications. If we’re lucky enough, we might find Paap right here on this island, surfing on the waves, or perhaps flying.

The closer we got the island, the sunnier it went and by the evening we were indeed witnessing how this man gets his ‘high’ not so much from playing drums as no-one had ever heard played in Soviet Union before, but now he indeed is flying (sic).

And so were we. At least in our minds when following with cameras this unknown flying object, listening to the rocking tunes of Psycho.

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Legendary drummer and adventurer Paap Kõlar getting ready for the high

Paap hosted us nicely, inviting us for a sauna on the beach and offering us a simple inca tent for a couple of hours of resting, before we had to head out for an interview-appointment with Ave in Kärdla. Later on the surf boys caught a black poisonous snake which we cooked and shared. Apart from that occasion, or maybe just on the contrary, these days in Hiiumaa were the new-age-pagan-psychedelic baptism our hippie trail in time.

Stay tuned!

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Born on white sand – Saleo Homestay in Raja Ampat

 Raja Ampat – one of the last paradises on the peak of the bird head shaped Papua island, still quite undiscovered by tourists. The archipelago has been kept behind a veil of exclusiveness, meaning the most of the visitors to the island arrive by planes and are then directly taken to the luxury boats, in which they then sail a week or two passing the scattered islands sunk into the greenery. The most mystical dimension is certainly under water, thus most of the time the tourists spend when on Raja Ampat is spent on diving tours that last for days or for weeks. But still, should you do some research you could find a bit more budget friendly way to the magic of Raja Ampat.

Every afternoon there are ships departing from Sorong that besides hundreds of locals take for extra 15 euros some tourists aboard. What is more, in Raja Ampat there’s one (and at the moment of writing, really only one!) bed and breakfast homestay, where you can stay for 10 euros a night. Compared with the 50 euro ride on a speed-boat or at least 100 euros for a day in a luxury boat and with some random hotel rooms that cost at least 35 euros, the before mentioned options seem quite edible even for low-budget travellers.

In the shade of the palm trees, there’s a super sweet shelter Saleo Homestay hiding itself. It’s about a 10-minute boat ride away from Waiwo, the centre of Raja Ampat, or you can also reach it by a motorbike if you care to take a half an hour ride along the muddy mountain roads.  In Saleo I was welcomed by a smugly grandfather, his calm and nice son with his lovely wife and by their little daughter Aini, who was 2 at the time of visiting. The characteristic girl was born onto white sand and has grown up in a coconut grove, running around and chasing after chickens and geese. And she’s the happiest in water. Cristal clear sea water is like nectar for her. She often goes with his father to the sea, and together at the sunset they catch a fish or two for supper. Everything served in Saleo comes directly from water, fresh gourmet, cooked in the simplest conditions, simply served.

Even if I’d get to spend a couple of days in a local resort, I still find life in its simplicity more enjoyable, in its wildness, here in Saleo, close to a local family, knowing that what you’ve eaten today has come about a few hundred meters away, from the fall of the coral reef, knowing that to take a shower in the gleam of the stars you’d only need to pump water from the well, knowing that little Aini is sitting in her bath and singing a candid tune, and knowing that you must be on Kurre Kurre Island.

The last paradise on earth – Raja Ampat, too much

The first time I heard anything about Raja Ampat islands was in the very same salon of Ayu. Ayu even grinned when she heard me praising the beautiful beaches of Papua, meaning those that I’d seen here around the corner in Sorong.

“What! What we have here is nothing – you need to go to Raja Ampat, for the weekend, ayo!”

Namely, near the city I’m doing my fieldwork with warias the last paradise on earth arises from the sea. Raja Ampat – a royal quartet of enchanting tropical islands, where after seeing the slogan “the last paradise on earth” tourists, ornithologists and divers flock from around the richest world. 

 Of course this made the situation a bit more complicated for me and Minna, because we’re no tourists nor bird watchers, whose wallets are what all the logistics of Raja Ampat has been meant for. But certainly we wouldn’t say no to a session into the magic of the  underwater world.

One night in Sorong we paid a visit to a wedding ceremony my host waria had organized. And just like that a dream I’d sent to the universe came true, the girl sitting next to me was from Raja Ampat. A few days later we’re on her family’s speed boat and scurrying towards the 1500 unknown coral islands. We had landed into the most obscure sounds. These were the sounds of a grown nature, in which a incontinent play of colours and freejazz of awkward birds were interwoven.

As Indonesian government had violated the rights of Papuans for ages, yet at the same time Papua has the highest number of different races in the country, then in recent years Papuans have been nicely spoilt, so that all kind of calls for fights for independence could be gently petted down. For example, Papuans connected with the city government get a rather decent salary. One of the many privileges available brought many young families to the capital of Raja Ampat (which actually is a little village), they were given a house and an office job in the city administration. All those fast investments into the local infrastructure seem rather weird, but I hold the details for now. There, in the house that had been the government’s gift, in the hypnotizing bird song gourmet, we found ourselves a place to stay for a few nights.

In the morning we went to explore the last paradise on earth. We found kilometers of warm glittering sea water, hundreds of green islands that rose from the sea like cakes, sharks and rays dashing in the sea bed, a giant fallos made of stone planted in a cave, the most beautiful swimming experience (I really cried), a meter long fish stuck on a fishhook that we could later grill, and all those thousands of colourful fish between the acidy corals on the other side of my snorkelling mask. It was all too much, having come from dusty citylife, with a broken mind, social depression hidden behind the night’s mask, with too many tears recorded on my sound recorder I use for interviews. It all was suddenly too much, there was too much beauty, too much real will of life, too much real god, nature, too much Alice, too much wonderland.

Pink plastic love, white plastic sand

Papua got me from the very first steps on this world’s second biggest island – New Guinea at the edge of the world map with its African beats, that were running on the dusty streets along with the yellow angot-buses, locally known as taxis.

As we stepped off from the ferry after three days on the sea, it felt as if we were entering another country. This here was not the Indonesia I used to know. Here we have some other rules of the game, this here is Papua.

The first marry little bus charmed us with the interior colored in pink. There was a man dressed in pink T-shirt, holding his hand on a pink gearshift and tiny pillows of pink LOVE were running over the front window, where there was written just one word: CINTA – and that means LOVE, of course. The driver turned the base louder and we head across the pale white streets that had tarnished under the sharp sun. I can hardly say that love was in the air – it all rather reminded me of that fake plastic love, that can be manufactured. But I was high on my heels just because I had finally reached Papua – and it was all about to begin. Only later on I realized that perhaps these very first minutes here had some symbolic function to play leading me into my new life in Segeri. As everywhere, where love is so desirable and needed, and yet so hard to achieve, it has to be written within the endless simulacrums, kitch, in the romance of the secondary experiences and hopeless fantasies. Until it takes over the real… But whatsoever – we’re all living it. Just as the people in Papua, just as the warias, just as us.

Our old friend Eka from Sulawesi wanted us to meet some people of her family here. Going on with the flow, we ended up staying a few days with an uncle that was sharing a small simple house with his daughter-in-law and her sweet child. The house was very basically furnished, we were always eating on the floor, and she was cooking on the floor, and washing dishes were we all had shower and took a piss.

Our uncle had been married four times. “A relationship ends, I get married again. Another relationship ends, I marry again,” he was stating smiling. He works as a driver with a very old and rusted minivan. Each morning he leaves the city, taking people to the nature – and he doesn’t need to drive much until the road ends, and the wild takes over; in Papua you hardly travel by land. In the afternoon they return, with piles of bananas and other goods from the lushy hillsides filling up the minibus completely. He’s a gentle and sincere man, knowing how to explain stuff just like an ideal grandfather, even if it was something very basic, or something more multifaceted, like for example warias. He was always finishing his thoughtful descriptions with a statement: “…so this is a waria.”

The family along with the neighbors took us straight to the beach, as it was Sunday. This is s day off for all Papua, and the crowds were taking good use of the amazing tropical beach, which is just around the corner from Segeri. This here was another kind of enjoyment what I saw – something that could never be together with the westeners (how bad I hate to use these categories). Here we see no bikinis, no sunbathing, but we play with the water and and sand, we feel happy, as their faces seemed to say. I felt quite happy too, but just couldn’t get myself too high on that beauty, because even this was too much of plastic. There was so much plastic trash on the beach, that I almost failed the feeling of being in nature, being connected. Oh dear cart of modernity, where the hell are you riding?!

But all in all, I was fascinated by it, fascinated by Papua.

Peace. Silence. Solitude. As much as it’s possible in Indonesia

Hidden in the faraway lagoons on a deserted island in a blissful naked solitude everything is just perfect – between the nature and us. But then religion comes in and our nakedness suddenly becomes a shameful act. 

Two and a half hours stumbling on muddy forest paths covered with sinuous roots move the contracts of a modern day Robinson into distant memories and help get into the swing of the fantasy of the wild life. Every time I try to grab another winding liana to avoid falling I give it a sharpened look and try to make sure the convoulted withe around it is definitely a plant. Mud is suppressing between my toes and I feel my feet sinking deeper and deeper into the mud floor. We’ve been walking up and down the hills forever and it’s only now when I hear the waves splashing against the rocks, which means we’re getting to the other side of the island.

The guide cuts us a few longer sticks and says good bye. Alone on a deserted island. On yellow sand. In blue water. Under the golden sun. In the shade of green trees. With a red saucepan in orange flames. Symbolically we throw our clothes off and delve into our bliss. Oh the freedom it is to be in the nude on a secret beach of an overcrowded Muslim state. Our days pass in constant activity, like it’s common to a Robinson.

It’s difficult not to do anything even in a total solitude. Once we have to find branches and then light the fire. Then we need to bathe in the sea or wash ourselves. As soon as we’ve boiled coffee water in our red saucepan we fill it with sea water to cook food. And when the food has cooked we can start thinking about the next meal time.  

The nights here are even more beautiful. The flaming heat has turned into mysterious silence. The sea rises and thus swimming in the moon light is especially wonderful. We open our arak bottle and let our senses rise high while we philosophize about the world orders or decode the myths of the Javanese souls. Finally, overblown we land in our “shelter”, thinking the day in silence had been one of the most glorious we’ve spent on Java.

This idyll is going through my head in slow motion, Bambies are hopping in the forest, butterflies are flapping their colourful wings, stars are falling from the sky, I’d never want to come out of this bliss, until on one day…

Bule! Ada bule! (White people!) At the same moment I hear noise and laughter from the forest. About ten teenage Indonesians rush out from the forest, being like unwanted cannibals who destroy our idyll with a second and eat us with their eyes. I’m just taking my afternoon bathe in the nood, me and the nature, when girls with covered hair conquer the beach. Marie brings me a towel so I could cover my naked body, because the moment a human arrives, religion overpowers nature, and the thing I’d thought as being part of the nature has now become a shameful behaviour against God’s will. 

Hours pass and there’s not only one group of Indonesians at the beach, but at least four or five who all have become to enjoy the wild life, having seen that there are some Robinsons living at the beach already they don’t go to the next beach but sit down next to you and hiss Dari mana? (From where?) It still remains a mystery why should one hike 2.5 hours along impossible paths on a deserted island and then continue socializing as intensively as before. 

We leave the island the next morning and I have the memory of the little blue lagoon where I experienced my social isolation in a bliss.

Transdimensional refugee crib ot the white sand beach

A few days ago who would have known that I’m on my bike on Bali, a tropical island filled with gods, dashing from one fabulous Hindu temple to another. A week ago who would have known that we’re tracking Shiva and Vishnu or measure the transformation of Batur volcano with a local vulcanologist.The timing of this trip was set by Merapi that was spilling heat clouds and ash bombs, the company of this trip thus was put together absolutely plan free. It all happened just like the mad situation in ash grey friday decided to direct us.

In Bali people pray more, make sacrifices in a form of flowery baskets to natural powers and gods at their every step, and always organize different ceremonies either for freeing the soul of a grandfather who’s died years ago, or for a birthday of some temple or for purifying the people of Bali. This is what our local religion men say – local volcanos are at peace with the locals, it’s safe here.

Vincent and Vilmar going wild

But neither Vincent nor me were the only refugees from Yogyakarta who’d travelled to a safer ground. For example, a half of the inhabitants of our hippie castle had come to Bali, the other half had gone to Australia. Võsa and Ethel came here too. Exactly a week after the enormous eruption of Merapi the paths of the refugees crossed at a white sandy beach on Bali. We aimed to sit around fire and take the most of the local rice booze araki and then catch the fire tail of a comet and fly into the universe where everything’s possible, and then rub our sandy eyes in the morning and to swim towards the sunrise and then just to delve into water and have a silent conversation with the orange and black striped Nemos.

When at the first night we’d been the only squatters at the beach, then the next morning a whole scene of Russian Ubudi goa-trance had arrived and for the name of the half moon a mind-blowing trance party was set up. We danced in the psychedelia of the white sand tickling our toes and under the setting sun, we danced with the neon coloured nozzle of Ganeshi and in the creative-demolishing power of Shiva.
Until the roaring sky opened and suddenly heavy liquid drops started to fall. We lied in the torch light under a sparse roof and the local village men tried to refresh our senses offering us different versions of araki each being more horrible than the other. Vincent was playing Velvet Underground on the guitar. I sang about Thor, the god of the heaven.

Shiva dance, Jiffy right behind me
Me and my friends Milan and Lucia from Slovakia

I assume the latter heard us. Or was it the dance eager Shiva. But the rain stopped soon and the trance of Bali Russians took us over.
Until the sun arose again on the horizon, until we could again throw ourselves into the waves, until together with a local friend Wyn we could for hours  look for a turtle in the sea bed, until we could grill fish on the fire, until we could afford the luxury of drinking real red wine, which our senses hadn’t tasted for four months and what our local friends had never tasted. They simply don’t have money for “real” red wine (the cheapest in Indonesia costs about 15 euros). They also cannot afford going to school. Or any other stupid luxury things or many vital things. We can share a bottle of red wine with them, but I can’t afford to sent Wyn to school.

On the very last night at the beach temple I donated my last fruits – a banana and a mango, to Shiva. They shall now represent the balance of Yin-Yang, feminine-masculine balance or symbiosis, or shall they simply be the two best tropical sweets to symbolize the wonderland-weekend we’d had.

The author of the fabulous photos: Ethel Kings, an Estonian photographer/painter based in Yogyakarta
@Pasir Putih, Bali, November 2010