West Papua Expedition
A very decent 4x4 Kijiang jeep is waiting for us this morning in front of the Baliem Pilamo Hotel untill we finished our breakfast. I can't get it why we could have this kind of car for such a good deal today. Nina and I are surprised and amazed.
Our plan for today: visit the Dani tribe for the second time, today to join a full ceremony with pig feast. Therefor, the first thing today this morning is going to the market in Wamena to buy a reasonable looking black pig. That is ofcourse still alive. Again, some discussion with Berlinda our tour escort, because the closed deal yesterday was in fact that we should pay 330.000 rupiah for the pig feast which included the animal. Anyway, we don't want to spoil the day and decided to pay the pig at an additional cost of yet 200.000 rupiah. After all it is not that much money to western budgets, but it is the principle that our female tour escort yet again changed her mind from the initial deal. It is visible clear that Berlinda is not really happy with the company of Nina, my new tourmate. She is literally against her all over which is of course complete nonsense for a tour agent.
Not a bad word said about Kardi, our local guide from Wamena who is again very helpful throughout. Loaded with our driver, Kardi, Berlinda, Nina, myself and our young black pig, the jeep is filled with a truly international and diverse company to be heading for yet another different people, the Dani tribes of Papua !
Our arrival at Jiwika district is in one word "impressive". To me it is still a mistery how Yali, the village chief could get all the way on top of a bamboo made look-out tower, some 10 meters above the valley floor. Totally traditionally dressed, that is with exception from his penis gourd and necktie made from shells, naked. His head decorated with colourful feathers, the forehead painted with black oily stuff while the rest of the body is covered with white painted spots.
As soon we made our appearance in the valley, Yali start screeming around to call the villagers together. From all corners of the valley, the indigenous people with black skins and curly hair, weaponed with arrow and bow, others with dangerously looking spears came right in front of us. Of course, this is all part of the welcome ceremony. This is just a mock war to represent real war between different tribes.
Formerly the Dani were often involved in wars among tribes. Even a very simple incident may cause a war.
The most common reasons to result a war are stealing women, usually one's wife. War was an immediate part of Dani life. Every Dani alliance was constantly at war with at least one of its neighbouring alliances. Every Dani had seen friends and acquaintances dead or dying from spear wounds and arrows.
Anyway, this is definitely the highlight of my West Papua expedition.
The Baliem Valley is officially called Jayawijaya, adopted from the name of the district. The valley floor is inhabited by these Dani tribesmen which men wear the so called koteka, a penis gourd functioned to cover the vital thing only as little as possible. They also usually decorate, especially in certain events like today, their head with beautiful parrot feathers and the nose with pig tooth. A more expensive accessory is a shell tie that used to be worn only by the chief.
After the mock war, I am guided by the Dani's to their compound where the women are chanting to welcome us. They wear grass skirt and beautiful, sometimes colored, string bark. they most live in primitive way of farming by growing sweet potato. From the earlier life the Dani have been very skillful in farming by building simple irrigation. In most places women work harder, either in the garden or in the "kitchen", than men. They work with fire-hardened digging sticks to plant or harvest sweet potato. In working they use only primitive tools. The presence of stonebladed in their culture makes it almost obligatory that the culture to be called Stone Age. The Dani still widely practised untill in the 1960's.
One of the most interesting parts of Dani way of life that still exists until today is the pig feast, a festival that used to be performed in ritual and sacred ceremony. When on a wedding the Dani celebrate the party by performing the pig feast as the essence. The Dani pig feast may well be the most important ceremony, relative to its culture, in the world. One's wealthiness is also counted on how many pigs he owns. Man may get married when he can present pigs he owns. Anyhow, that is not the reason why I brought a pig today. In earlier life women fed pig babies with their breast - a few still do today.
Our pig is slaughtered the traditional way with arrow and bow. Yali pulls his bow and shoot the arrow right into the heart of the unfortunate screaming black pig. It is then placed on open fire to be barbecued. Meanwhile, the women preparing sweet potatos in a open pit (picture). The pig has been on the fire for just about 15 minutes when the Dani find it well-prepared and ready to be cut open and eaten as a whole, nothing to be wasted. Nina and myself are very hungry after the hike to the valley but we kindly thanked the Dani for their invitation to join lunch.
It is time for us to make a second attempt for the Sekan Mountain. Yesterday, I could'nt make it due our poor vehicle. This time, I'm proud to tell Nina that we can have a delicious lunch at the german-owned Baliem Valley Resort which according my resources offers great scenery over the Baliem Valley. It should'nt be a problem with our strong Kijiang jeep to get there.
Yet again, it is not Berlinda's idea to go to Sekan Mountain. According to her the way up to the Sekan mountain is inaccesible due to a broken bridge. However, I demand the driver who we hired for the entire day after all, to proceed our way up there.
Kardi and our driver clearly understood what I meant and started the strong 4x4 engine to depart for the remotely located Baliem Valley Resort where we supposed to have our lunch.
The jeep crossed several wooden bridges, none of them broken and after yet another 2-hour off-road adventure, the Baliem Valley Resort or Werner Resort* as it is locally known for, is finally visible on top. The view is indeed breathtakingly beautiful, but the resort looks surprisingly silent. Except from a guard, there's not a single human to be seen around the resort grounds. We can only enjoy the stunning views for a couple of minutes, without being in the possibility to fill our complaining stomages.
We decided to continue our trip to our final place of interest, a rope hanging bridge across the Baliem River located at Sinatma.
Once arrived, honestly spoken the bridge dissapointed us because Berlinda did'nt brought us to the most spectacular one, which hangs just inches above the wild waters of the Baliem River gorge.
No problem, we were both hungry and wanted to take a cool shower in the basic comfort of the Baliem Pilamo hotel before we wanna take our dinner finally after our skipped lunch.
Back at our hotel, yet again another long and noisy discussion with Berlinda came into development as our previously negotiated car hire price comes out to be seven times the initiated deal ! This being the drop that overloaded the bucket, immediately I demanded my tour-escort cq trip-operator to end her accompany here since I don't see any reason to use her services further more. The exchanging of words ended up in a screamingly loud discussion from her side, something which during the past 15 years of worldwide traveling, I have never experienced before. It shocked me so much, that I want to get rid of her right away on the spot. She asks for an additional 800.000 rupiah for her "services" apart from the 700.000 car hire. That being said I was happy to pay and get totally rid of her by now.
Looking back from the moment she picked me up too late at the airport until now, she has literally done nothing. It is Kardi the local Papuan guide who helped me throughout with both explanations and instructions. For Berlinda this was just a touristic trip as it was to me with only one exception, everything being paid for her by this western visitor.
That being said and another experience richer, I would like to take the opportunity to warn possible travelers to use Papua Explorer Tours, a fake organisation run by a women from Jayapura called "Berlinda Bungapon".
Bottom line: I had a great trip with exceptional new experiences during my contact with the loving Dani peoples. Traveling to the region is quite easy to do on your own without being trapped by "agencies" who often are asking for out of this world high prices.
Ok, West Papua is not a cheap destination because most goods are imported, but keeping an eye of what you're doing can save you huge amounts still.
I took a flight from Denpasar - Bali to Jayapura and paid 260 Euro round-trip. The ticket can easily be reservated at any Garuda office online. You can pick up your ticket on arrival in Bali and pay it just then. Once in Jayapura, buy a ticket with Air Trigana for about 40 USD round trip to Wamena. There are usually 4 flights a day to Wamena, if weather conditions are ok.
* Werner is the first name of the german owner of the Baliem Valley Resort.