West Papua is located in the most eastern part of our country, Indonesia. With more than 17.500 islands spread all over the country, West Papua is one of the biggest islands after Kalimantan (Borneo), Sulawesi (Celebes), Sumatera, and Java. I can say that I am lucky enough since I was able to visit those four big islands, plus some of the small ones.
I visited West Papua for the first time back in 2006 when I worked as a full-time worker at an international NGO based in Manado & cover the area of East Indonesia. I was so excited planning my trip to the heart of Papuan culture & tribal society: Wamena or mostly well-known as Baliem Valley.
The only access to get there is by flight from Sentani, Jayapura (less than one hour with small planes like Trigana Air). Unlike any other planes, there is no seat number in this plane, meaning you are free to rush & choose the most suitable seat for you once you are boarding. For no special reason, my favorite is always at the back, right beside the window.
Going to Wamena, there are several important thing you need to consider:
- Make sure that you have done that ‘natural calling’ at the airport (I mean there is no airplane toilet on that Trigana Air except you can manage to hold it back for another 55 minutes till you get there)
- When you arrive at the airport, watch your luggage very carefully. If you can carry it all by yourself, it will be better but in case you need a porter, deal your price first & keep walking as close as possible to him.
- Most of the hotels/home stays in Wamena are within walking distance from the airport but with your luggage, you might need a pedicab or a rent car. Again, deal your price first.
- Riding on a pedicab or ‘becak’, you have to warn the rider to slow down because they often run the pedicab as fast as they want. Do not forget to deal the best price & do not hesitate to haggle.
- For photographer, be careful! Do not use flash when you take photograph in public like at the market unless they will ask you to pay for each snap you take!
- When you visit one of the villages to see a mumi (like in Kurulu), you better ask a prior information about the sum of money to pay for each person (you decide how many people you want to photograph which suits your pocket). As I remember, we paid about five or ten thousand per person at that time.
- Coming from Manado where the price for a litter of mineral water is only 3.000Rp, I was so shocked to find it more than 3 times expensive here, so are the meals at the small cafes/restaurants, and other stuff as well. So, I liked buying several things from Jayapura before getting to this extra-expensive area (due to the only way to get things here is by plane).
- Where I live (in Tomohon) is known with its cold air but to my surprise, it’s much colder in this valley. So warm jacket is a must. Yet it’s quite hot during daytime (on sunny days).
- In some spots, cell phone signal is good
- Sometimes you can be assertive to any individual selling Papuan souvenir. A strict “No” is sometimes needed unless they will keep following you day after day till you finally want to buy.
Once you are in Wamena, you will explore its rich culture & social life, gorgeous landscape, and the rest of its natural beauty like Baliem River.
- The best time to visit Wamena is in August since they host an annual festival which you don’t want to miss.
- Don’t be shocked when you see the elder ones loose some of their fingers. It has something to do with their culture of cutting a single knuckle when one of the family members died (I’m not sure if it also apply to the young people)
- Most of the locals live in their traditional homes called Honai. Sometimes a small honai could accommodate up to 20 family members! Honai consists of three different shapes: for men, for women, and kitchen.
I wish to go back there someday.. 🙂 It’s a nice place to visit.