Since the town of Wamena in the highlands of Papua can only be reached by air, all the fuel has to be flown in by cargo plane. In Wamena this is organized for us by a third party, but it gets more complicated when the fuel is needed in remote places in the bush.
Since some of our flights are several hours away from our base, we have set up small fuel depots at strategic locations throughout Papua. On request, MAF or Yajasi fly our fuel to these “bush fuel stations” with their small airplanes. (For economic reasons, we rarely transport fuel barrels ourselves, because of the relatively low load capacity). From these locations we can fly short rotations to remote villages or refuel on long flights.
Since air freight is much more expensive than road transport, we use the latter whenever possible. Although a cost-effective alternative, land transport is also the most challenging. The roads in Papua, where there are any, are in miserable condition and often only passable during the dry season. Our team recently experienced an odyssey in Wasior. Although Wasior is only 170km (106 mi) away from the next town, the truck needed 24 hours to get there. On the way back it took 48 hours, because the weight of the fuel made it almost impossible to make progress on the road. The convoy was accompanied by 4 policemen, 2 drivers and 3 helpers. Although they were on the road for two days without sleep, these individuals told us that they would do it again immediately if we continued to support them in the bird’s head area. I was very touched by this expression of appreciation for our work.
Something we take for granted in the Western World is a great challenge that requires a lot of planning in other parts of the world. But this is also what makes our work so interesting.