Tony visited Wamena, capital of Baliem Valley, with a couch surfing friend, Raymond. Raymond is from Wamena, and Tony stayed with his lovely family just outside the town. The Baliem Valley is home to many cultural tribes most noticeably Dani, Lani and Yali. Raymond’s family are Lani.
The only way to reach Wamena is by plane. Trigana and Wings have several flights a day from Jayapura. Almost all produce is flown in by transport plane, hence it is an expensive area. Petrol is three times the price compared to Jayapura. Once Raymond and I had landed, we visited the local police station to obtain a Surat Jalan, a pass allowing me to visit the region. A passport photocopy was required plus two photographs.
We rented a taxi for a half-day visit to a couple of local villages. The main stop was at Jiwika. This village is home to a 371 year old mummy. I was allowed to take photos with the mummy for a fee! The bones felt like wood and he has a large mouth and no teeth! This is a tourist village and the locals take off their clothes when tours arrive. People used to live naked in the mountains but modernity has come to the area in recent times. For 10,000 Indonesian Rupiah per person, approximately 50 pence, I could have my photo taken with the naked villagers, men, women and children. Raymond gathered about 20 people and I had a quick feel of one naked women – she was very nice!
After this we headed to Raymond’s home about one kilometre from downtown Wamena. I met his family, sister, and his aunt and uncle plus their three daughters. We sat on the grass chatting, Raymond translating. I said ‘Halo’, Indonesian for hello, and shook hands. His house is a simple affair with a front room where I slept on a mattress then several other rooms leading to a simple bathroom. The toilet is a hole in the ground and flushing is by putting water into the hole afterwards. The shower is a bucket of cold water over the head! It rained every evening and on my first night there I met a local priest. He was impressed that a blind man could travel the world and prayed for me. We ate sweet potato and cooked vegetables. I played with kids who spoke some words of English. Everyone has tight curly hair like African people.
On my second day, Raymond hired a motorbike and we explored some of the valley. Visiting local villages and taking photos of the rocky mountainous and tree-lined terrain. Grapes, watermelon, bananas and many other fruits line the roadside and the grass had a coffee smell. We attempted to drive to the mouth of the Baliem River but had to turn back due to dense grass. The water was sighted and also the old Iron Bridge across the Baliem River. Eventually we reached an area called White Sand. A beach-like place with many rough rocks and some trees. The sky was blue with clouds forming. Local kids took photos but we had to pay to visit the area! We raced the rain clouds but they soaked us before we reached Wamena.
My second night was spent by the fire in Raymond’s small honai – a local traditional sleeping house. In the villages, the men and women have separate honais. More sweet potatoes and cooked veggies were eaten and I tried a local delicacy, Red Dragon Fruit. It is somewhat spiky and oval in shape. It is full of oil and your fingers and lips become red when eating it. They boil it on the fire and this creates a pan of thick oil which is drunk with seeds being spat out. It tasted thick and heavy to me, oily and not too delightful!
The third day was spent visiting more old villages and hiking to Napua Waterfall through the forest. This was fun. Raymond lead me and we had to cross the river twice. The second time I removed my shoes and socks and went bare foot. The water was cool and inviting. The ground was very muddy with recent rain and I slipped several times. We climbed down the trail and finally reached the waterfall, a wonderful sound to my ears. After 15 minutes rest Raymond pulled me back up the steep incline of muddy steps to the trail and we retraced our steps. Recrossing the river, Raymond made a video of me walking through the river. Naturally I fell and swore. I made it to the other side and Raymond helped me up the bank, where I once again fell over with Raymond landing on top of me. Ten minutes later we exited the forest and rode back to Wamena.
My fourth and final day was Sunday, everything was closed and most people went to church. Raymond and I relaxed. The previous evening I had bought pork and we shared it around the fire. In the early evening we visited a village where Raymond was born and where his Grandma had recently died. The villagers were overwhelmed to see Raymond and fascinated with me! Again it rained. To leave the village in the dark Raymond had to take the bike up to the road because the fields were muddy. I had to walk in the rain and climb over two fences! That night we had chicken and rice Nasi Aiam at midnight. The following morning we flew back to Jayapura.