First, I would like to underline that I am not a professional writer, nor am I into any kind of travel business or industry. The reason why I am writing the stories and tales I've been experiencing during my previous trips, is simply because I would like to share some funny, hilarious, sometimes scary moments I've been facing along the way and besides from that I like to memorize it for myself. Please excuse me for any written faults as I've never been studying for English in school but just by myself. This text will be accompanied with some images, however for full picture-reports please refer to the different picture galleries from Asia or other countries at main page.
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I hope you will enjoy reading the travel reports as much I enjoyed them by writing them !
West Papua Expedition
It's again almost 4 months ago, but this morning I have the priveledge to step foot on Thai grounds yet again. I am here for two nights mainly to meet with a few friends here in Bangkok and of course to enjoy the amazing nightlife this vibrant city has to offer.
After being several months following the same weekly cyclus at countryside where nothing really happens, just to follow the same weekly pattern from monday to sunday, it changes my mood significantly as soon I arrive in this metropolitan City of Angels. It's a true different world in the Orient. Bangkok is a place you might want to hate or love it. I just adore this city for all its charms it has in common. After dozens of visits, still the city brings me joy and heaps of fun. The ice cold Corona's at Muzik Cafe taste delicious again. The live band at this place rocks till 1.00am (too early Mr. Thaksin) but above Radio City, another popular Patpong nightvenue with nightly performance of Thai Elvis and Thai Tom Jones, there's Lucifer Disco which is crowded till 2.00am.
What a way to kick off this Asian Holiday again !
This is undoubtly one of the shortest nights I ever have experienced. I ended up in my hotelroom at 4.40am this night and got to catch my flight to Bali at 8.40am. Wake up call was scheduled at 5.30am. I did'nt come to Asia to spend in Thailand throughout. Bangkok is a great place to organise further trips within South East Asia or further beyond. My destination this time is somehow unusual because not so easy to reach but that peppers the trip. I want to find my way to West Papua this time.
Once onboard flight TG431 with destination Denpasar-Bali, immediately I fell in a deep sleep. I did'nt mind the breakfast onboard, I just want one thing....sleeping.
Of course Bali is'nt unknown terrain neither to me after numerous visits in the nineties and most recently last december 2004. However, Kuta is a place that changes all the time whenever I come here. Shopping malls, disco's, bars, restaurants..., places come and go but these days Bali is definitely "hip" again despite the october 2002 bombing. There's a huge new shopping mall at Kartika Plaza - Discovery Plaza, the only shopping mall with direct access to the beach - as it likes to promote itself. While Maccaroni's is since 1996 one of the better Italian restaurants in Kuta, Paddy's reloaded attracts a hip crowd each night after 11.00pm. Santa Fé, De Ja Vu and Double Six are among my favourite nightspots so I frequented this places on a nightly basis while Em Bar Go seems to attract a younger crowd. One thing is sure: Bali has so much to offer that I always enjoy coming back here. Same as to Phuket in Thailand, it is one of my all time favourites since I decided to explore the planet. Not just for its nightlife but it is so rich in culture and pure nature. But perhaps the best part of the island is the people from Bali. Truly kind and loving to share their hospitality with foreigners once you become close friends with them.
Anyway, I came to Bali now mainly to prepare my adventure to Papua. From Denpasar there is a direct flight (with short stop in Timika) to Jayapura in West Papua. The alternative is too complicated. I had a booking with Garuda from Denpasar to Jayapura done over the internet because this ticket is more then 3 times cheaper when booked in Indonesia then here in West Europe. Strange thing is that both bookings can be done with Garuda directly at their offices ! Once I had arrived in Bali, I picked up my Garuda ticket at Ngurah Rai International Airport, paid it and everything was done and ready to depart on may 4 at 2.30am.
At 8.50am I finally arrive at Jayapura, the capital of former Irian Jaya, these days known as West Papua. My tour escort, being booked over the internet as well is not on time at our appointment. Dark skinned people with unwashed curly hair chewing beetlenut, start gathering around me trying to make themselve understandable to this strange white-skinned fella.
After yet another 10 minutes waiting and preparing myself to get to the city center to find a hotel Berlinda finally shows up. She introduces herself as a Gouvernmental representative of the Department of Tourism. I don't believe her.
Anyway, we had to do some administrative work before I could connect to my inland destination Wamena. In the first place everyone who wants to visit West Papua needs a Surat Jalan, a special travel permit provided by the police station. It is known that there are often armed conflicts in the region and that is exactly why visitors need a special permit. Journalists or people with other purposes besides tourism are simply banned from West - Papua. After I paid my Surat Jalan at the local police station, I bought my domestic tickets for both Wamena and Biak and then quick back to Sentani airport to catch my connecting flight. My escort guide has made a serious mistake and my flight has been departed already. No problem, western people seems to have priority on all flights (we bring the dollars to support local economy) so i got the last flight to Wamena after I paid 300.000 rupiah to the driver for my transfer from airport to city center and back to the airport. Here I encountered the first corrupt way of treating tourists as 300.000 is a huge amount of money to Indonesian standards. Well, I paid and took off to the Baliem Valley
On arrival, I noticed a huge spitbowl in the middle of the "arrival hall filled with red stuff. Locals enjoy to chew beetlenut so their mouths are bloody red. The bowl as well.
I had booked the Nayak Hotel but after my inspection of the room, I decided to check out the best available place in town, The Baliem Pilamo Hotel. I paid 280.000 rupiah a night in deluxe room, comparable to a 2-star hotel.
The first day in the Valley starts chaotic as negotation to find a local minibus that has to bring me to Kurulu district to visit the village of Jiwika.
After about 1 hour bouncing in a metal box on wheels, we arrive at the local police station where I had to get a permittion being stamped at my Surat Jalan. My tour escort informs me that she forgot my Surat Jalan ! Back one hour of bouncing to Wamena, pick up the Surat Jalan and yet again on the way to Jiwika. After wasting a lot of time, we finally arrive at 11.00am in the village where I have my first contact with the local Dani people. This meeting makes me forget the troubles which has happened this morning. Women wearing just some kind of grass around their waist are fighting to pose with this stranger for the photoshoot. Children ran to me, while I open a bag of western candies which I brought along all the way from Belgium. In no time the content has disappeared while the women are begging for cigarettes.
Escorted by hordes of local women and children I arrive at the compound where I meet the village chief, Mr. Yali. The chief is easy to be recognised as he's wearing a necktie made from small shells. From Kardi, my local guide, I learn that Yali was invited by a group of officials from Japan who visited the site a few years ago. Nothing special you would think but if you see how these people live here in very basic tatched huts with literally no facilities compared to the ultra modern Japanese lifestyle. I try to imagine when Yali arrive in Tokyo wearing nothing more then his Koteka (penisgourd) and some feathers to decorate his mushroom-alike hairstyle which looks like being drenched in black oil.
Other villagers are very pleased to welcome me into their community as well. One of them takes my hand to guide me, crossing a suspended bridge, our entire colourful company continue the trip untill we arrive in the next village.
To reach the compound, I have to climb some kind of innovated ladder to get over the bamboo fence which encircles the compound. I guess this is to keep pigs out of their property. After my acrobatic movement to get over the fence I see three big thatched huts. The one centrally located services as the kitchen while on the left of the inner court is the female hut. On the right is where the men share their nights. The same ritual here again. Acceptance by the entire village, shaking hands, sharing smiles and making group pictures. I promise these people that I will return tommorow to have a pigfeast.
Today's trip continues to Sekan Mountain where the Baliem Valley Resort, run by a German is located. To reach this place where I am looking to fill my empty stomage is not going the easy way. What would have been a decent minibus in a previous life, these days nothing more then some metal trash on wheels is supposed to bring me all the way up to the off road tracks to Sekan Mountain. After about 2 hours of traveling, ready to climb the first meters up, the engine give up in the middle of nowhere at about 3.00 pm in an open space with no shade to hide for the strong sun. The young driver, probably used to the problem, seems to know what is happening. Hitting some engine parts with a strong piece of wood makes the engine talks again. This unusual rythm repeats every 2 or 3 kilometers sometimes crossing partly broken wooden bridges where I had to get out of the metal box on wheels giving instructions to the young driver to cross his way over the planks. This keeps going for some time untill I told him to return back and forget about my Sekan Mountain adventure. Well, an adventure it certainly was.
I can't understand why my Jayapura tour escort has organised a trip with this kind of vehicle. This track is pure off-road great for strong 4x4 vehicles.
After a while when we finally arrive back at some paved track, the metal thing gives completely up as if it knews that he brought us far enough to find another box on wheels. Anyhow, my driver managed to stop another sort of trashy metal piece on wheels. I can't switch untill I paid full fare to the first driver, nevertheless I still have rented the vehicle for yet six hours ! In addition, I need to pay an extraordinary amount of money to get onto the third rented vehicle this day. Yey again another discussion starts but the only options seems to pay otherwise I might get stuck here. My guide wants to bring me to an alternative destination just to heal some of her mistakes. Although, I have never heard about the place, I agreed and on we go...
It is about 5.00pm already when we have to stop at a military control post.
The soldiers dressed combat style at the checkpoint are requesting cigarettes from me. While I know that I have given all to the local Papuans, I act as I am looking in my backpack for fags. I can't do anything else then tell them I ran out of smoke. The soldiers gave green light to continue my trekking. After a few kilometers of trekking through knee-height foliage, I am told to watch out for snakes living in this area. "Thank you" I replied and could not do anything then forward our journey every now and then being stopped to greet a local who extensively want to shake my hand, making a strange noise sounding like wah, wah, wah, wah, (see video here). Yet again, after making more acrobatic movements to cross small running rivers over tree trunks and rocks, we arrive at another village where people seems to have been intouch with the western world before. Children are wearing oversized t-shirts with Beckham or Ronaldo prints while their mothers also wear some cotton here. Strange but I don't see a single male in this village. Children are yet again following me every step I make and do clearly enjoy my visit by sundawn. At last we arrive again at some point where our minibus is waiting for my guide and myself.
This is the end of a day with several highlights definitely during village visits but also some downsides because of pricedeals which were promised but not accepted at the end. As a result, heavily discussions with Miss Berlinda are common whilst service is far from good. I am lucky that I charged a second (local) guide, Kardi from Wamena who was helpful, kind and concerned throughout the day. Already by now, I know that I have to get rid of my tourescort from Jayapura who is nothing more then a money swallower taking advantage of the situation to be able traveling around paid by this silly tourist.
On arrival at the Baliem Pilamo Hotel, I take a shower and proceed to the hotel's restaurant, considering the region a good place to have your diner.
When I just sat down a minute, an attractive foreign lady about my age, walks inside and immediately we get to know one another. She's Canadian who worked in Bandah Aceh after the Tsunami hit the region. Right now she's traveling around a little bit before she will return to Canada which is her home. After we figured out that we are neighbours in the hotel (she stay's next to my room), we decide to share tommorow's tour for the pigfeast in Jiwika.
Berlinda, my tour-escort, who still is hanging around at the hotelgrounds is facing dark clouds with thunder when I informed her about this. Anyway, Nina and I agreed that we will rent a 4x4 jeep tommorow for the daytrip to the feast. The agreement for the price is just 100.000 rupiah which is doubtfully a bargain for this type of vehicle.