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A Near Miss - A Skydiving Expedition in East Irian Jaya -

INDONESIA | Saturday, 11 July 2015 | Views [273]

Travel lessons from a Hollywood producer you never want to use

 

I was working fast to get my parachute open and my camera in place after I exited the helicopter over the headhunter village high up in the mountains in a remote region of East Irian Jaya, New Guinea.

The winds were howling and my parachute was backing up quickly as it opened.  I was being pushed backwards over a large river.  The landing area in the village was just a small enclosure of grass huts, beyond the river.  I had to make a dead center landing to start the filming of the movie.

 

It all started after I won the world skydiving championships

 

I was receiving many offers to take part in some pretty crazy gigs.  

One day, a Hollywood producer got in touch and asked if I would join him and several other women who were world champions in different sports in an extreme sports expedition.  It would be the first-of-its-kind expedition into East Irian Jaya, New Guinea, a closed country at the time, where there were still headhunters. 

The Team would be made up of four women, with the specialties being skydiving, white water river running and mountain climbing.  

The plan was epic. 

The expedition would start off with me training the other women how to skydive.  Then the movie would start with us parachuting into a headhunter village and surprise the natives.

This was no joke.  What a crazy idea.

Then, after the fanfare of our arrival, we would pick up some headhunters who would then hopefully carry our mountain climbing and river running gear through miles of jungles, where we would then scale a never-before climbed mountain and raft down a white water river through more headhunter villages. 

The Hollywood movie crew would then pick us up where the river met the ocean.

I thought it was laughable!  Well, that’s because it was. 

I had mixed feelings about going, but the gig was also a little interesting to me.  

Was I getting paid well?  NO.  We were told that it was a big damn deal and honor to even just be invited.

 

Meeting Hollywood

 

I drove down to Hollywood to meet the adventure producers.  They were a husband and wife team and impressive!  They traveled all over the world producing for National Geographic and other movies and TV shows. 

I was somewhat intimidated by these super-power people, but I signed on.  We were to leave in less than two weeks.

 

Guns – drugs and porno films were our bargaining tools

 

The First Challenge  –  Arrive in Jakarta, Indonesia and get through customs with the parachute – river running and mountain climbing gear.

It was not until we were 20 hours into our flight, which was held over in Singapore that we learned that Hollywood was working with a lawyer friend in Jakarta who was making a deal with a customs officer for us to trade guns, drugs and pornographic movies in exchange for getting our gear through customs.  I learned that these are the three most banned items to bring into Indonesia.    

As we had an abundant amount gear and complicated expedition plans, which were also illegal, our supplies and equipment would never of made it through customs without some sort of major trade off.

I felt like an Ugly American along side Hollywood who already was.  What an arrogant choice and show of disrespect.

 

Plan A seldom works!

We were exhausted by the time we walked into the Jakarta airport after the 24 hour flight.  The airport was full of officers with machine guns as the country was under political unrest at the time.  They were looking at everyone who passed by.  It was crowded, hot and humid.  Hollywood told us to sit on the top of our big heap of gear that had just came through baggage.  In the meantime, he would go search for the right customs officer he was to make the trade with. 

Well, I can’t even describe the feeling and fear.  Here we were, four girls sitting on top of rafts, parachute gear, mountain climbing gear, food and rations as we waited to see what would happen with Hollywoods trade plan with customs.

We had sat in the middle of the airport for upwards of an hour.  By now we were becoming very obvious to all the military men in the customs area. 

After quite some time, Hollywood came back and said he could not find the right customers officer.  At the same time, Hollywood’s lawyer friend came storming through the airport door motioning with his hands to stop everything.

The lawyer quickly informed Hollywood not to talk to any of the customs officers as the right one was not on duty that day!  The lawyer friend had caught up with Hollywood just in time.  Instead of the trade off with the guns, porn and drugs, he instead had made us fake paperwork and literally, the ink was still wet.

 

It’s never the big things that take you down, it’s always the little things that start adding up

 

The expedition started going downhill from here as we were held up in Jakarta for weeks trying to get our paperwork to travel into New Guinea.  I wanted to go home, but also did not want to be negative and be a party pooper and quite.  After all, we had gotten this far.

I forged on.

True to his nature, Hollywood along with his arrogance decided to go on into East Irian Jaya without the legal paperwork.   

His mission now was to find any small aircraft flying in that direction then, buy our way on board.  After waiting a few more weeks, Hollywood found a plane headed that way with room for two people.  Hollywood chose his wife and I to go first.

We learned we would be traveling on a small aircraft called an Otter with about 20 Indonesian construction workers who were also going into East Irian Jaya. 

When I saw the aircraft - - well, it was the worst piece of shit junk airplane that was no-where near safe.  It was worse than the old jump airplanes where we used silver duck tape to hold things together. 

As we loaded, it was over 100 degrees.  We sat on the tarmac for over an hour with the workers shoved up tight next to me.  I became so claustrophobic, I was ready to climb through the side of that airplane.  I’ve never had a panic attack and claustrophobia, until that situation.  Basta!  I was done!  But, it was too late, as the plane took off down the runway.  

We began the flight, which would take us 2,500 miles across the ocean on a plane that had no instruments or floatation gear. 

Half way we landed to stay over night on the island of Biak, an old World War II base which had a few old Quonset huts as rooms.  My room was small with a dim light hanging out of the ceiling and a hole in the floor as a toilet.  I stayed awake all night waiting to attack the first construction worker that came through my door.

The next day we made it into Japura, East Irian Jaya, where we sat for another two weeks waiting for the rest of the team to find a plane flying our way.  Everyday, we would sit at the little airport waiting for the producer and other girls. When they finally flew in, the tension was so tense that success of any magnitude for this expedition was a remote possibility. 

Suddenly, there was one wrong word said and the producer and his wife got into a huge fight over the trip and all that is happening.  It turned into an all-out drag-down fist-fight to the end. 

No kidding. It was brutal.

And, here all these beautiful native people were standing around in horror, watching them like it was a western movie.  The two ugly Americans.  I was so embarrassed.

Now, we were pegged. 

We had flown into the country illegally, kind of an under-the-radar sort of thing.  Now, everyone in this small village and country heard and knew about us. 

But, the missionaries who Hollywood had hired beforehand were cool people.  I immediately liked them because they flew airplanes and helicopters.

They quickly got us out of the village and flew us into the jungle four and a half hours away in their Cessna 180.  We arrived where Hollywood planned for me to jump into a mountainous area where the natives were still considered headhunters.

The next day, the missionaries flew me in their helicopter up the mountain to search for the best landing area to parachute into.  However, we did not get far when the Indonesian government radioed the pilots on their headsets.  The pilots waved to me sitting in the back of the helicopter that we would have to circle back. 

When we landed, the missionaries told us that the government had found out we had illegally gotten into the country and instructed us to immediately fly all the way back to Japura. 

We received instructions to not even take time to go back to the village and collect our personal items!  Now, we had to fly four and a half hours back to Japura again in the small Cessna180. 

 

We were immediately put into their prison house

We sat there for days.  The mice and mosquitoes were so bad that we were finally given a little tent to set up inside the room.  It was kind of like being inside a prison within another prison. 

The missionaries told me that the “general” of this area was in the military and had made a parachute jump at Ft. Bragg. 

Thank God, I thought.  I knew this was our out of prison card.

I requested to see the general.  It was a success and as I cleaned up the best I could, I was escorted to his office.  We talked about skydiving stories like fisherman talk about fish stories.  His English was good.  I shared with him how I wanted to make a jump in his country like he did when he came to the U.S.  I let him know that I realized it “cost him a lot of money” for us to be there. 

I arranged for a payment of our “expenses” and the Hollywood producer paid him some money after the meeting.

We got an “out of jail card.”

Within hours we left and flew back another four and a half hours in the small Cessna 180 to the jungle to start the movie. 

Exhausting!

Within days we were back up in the mountains where I found the best village and terrain to set up the jump. 

Every day it was so windy, that we had to halt all jumps into the small landing area.   After a few days, I finally said I was good to go.  I just wanted to get on with it.  It was too windy for the other girls, so it was planned that I would be the only one to parachute in.  

I got ready and taped the camera onto my hand while I did another quick safety check of my parachute.  As we flew out, I “spotted” my jump way beyond the village, as I knew the winds would be blowing me backwards.   When I exited the helicopter and opened my parachute, sure enough the upper winds blew me backwards very fast.  I had to get ready quickly while my parachute opened, as I was supposed to videotape the village area as I was coming in to land.

I made it dead center and landed perfectly square on the target within the village.  Another World Champion jump!  All the villagers, who only wore grass skirts and men who only wore gourds over their penis’s gathered around me.

It was magnificent, as the villagers had no idea what a parachute was.  

And, who was I?   A woman, or a god?  My blue eyes intrigued them.

The next day after I woke up and left my little hut, there were hundreds of natives waiting for me.  They followed me everywhere wanting to carry my gear and touch me.  I thought the gentle spirit of the native people was so precious.  It made me want to stay with the missionaries for a while and fly around in their neat helicopters helping these people.

But, Hollywood never sleeps.  

Now, we had to get ready to climb the mountain - a 17,000 ft.  technical climb on a mountain that had never been scaled. 

However, as we were leaving our tents and gathering our gear, the producer discovered that all of this production money had been stolen. 

Great!  What next!

Now, we were not only in the middle of a jungle with little resources, but also without money to get us back to Jakarta.  Of course, no one in the village area admitted to the money being taken and getting it back was obviously a lost cause.

About then, a big cargo airplane was flying into the field with supplies for the village.

There was only one of these planes flying in each month.  I heard it would be going back to Jakarta.  Since my parachute jump had been made into the village and we had to split up for each person to get out as they could, I was elected to go ahead and go back.  The others would have to do their time on the mountain and get the rest of the movie footage.

 

Going home

It was a bitter-sweet adventure.  I learned invaluable lessons I would never have learned without having to deal with all the challenges and personalities.  Also, I learned how fast you can get your ass in trouble if you’re not on your game.

Which leads to the important Lesson  -

 

Don’t trust Hollywood! –

 

Tags: hollywood movie, jakarta, maria camille, new guinea, skydiving expedition

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