Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The Baliem Valley

The Baliem Valley is easily the most popular destination in Papua and the most accessible place in the interior. While the Dani people who inhabit most of the inner valley have adopted some Western conveniences, and the main town, Wamena, has a few modern facilities, the valley remains one of the last truly fascinating, traditional areas in the world.

The first white men chanced upon the valley in 1938, a discovery that came as one of the last and greatest surprises to a world that had mapped, studied and explored its remotest corners.

WWII prevented further exploration, so it was not until 1945, when a plane crashed in the valley and the survivors were rescued, that attention was again drawn to the region.

The first Dutch missionaries arrived in 1954, and the Dutch government established a post in Wamena two years later. These days, Indonesia has added its own brand of colonialism, bringing schools, police, soldiers, transmigrants and shops to the valley, though the local culture has in many ways proved resilient.

The 1272-sq-km Baliem Valley is about 60km long and 16km wide, with Wamena at its centre. Running through the valley, the mighty Sungai Baliem drops about 1500m in less than 50km on its way to the south coast.

The best time to visit is the drier months between March and August, when the days are fine (up to 26°C) and the evenings are cool (about 12°C). This coincides with the European summer, however, so the Baliem Valley is often busy in the middle of the year (especially August). During the wet season (September to February), trekking is often unpleasant and some trails will be impassable.

In any case, be prepared for rain anytime (on average, it rains 16 days every month in the valley), and always take cold-weather gear for higher areas, such as Danau Habbema (Lake Habbema).

Travel Permit
Enforcement of regulations get less stringent each year, but it’s still prudent to get a surat jalan for Wamena and the Baliem Valley. You must obtain a surat jalan before arriving in Wamena; see p798 for more general information about the surat jalan.

The tiny police office in Wamena airport should be open when you arrive; if not, report to the police station (Jl Safri Darwin) yourself within 24 hours. It’s painless, but necessary.
In the countryside, you should show your surat jalan to police stations or village authorities if you stay (ie not visit on a day trip) anywhere outside Wamena. Reporting to the police is often unnecessary (and sometimes impossible) if you’re trekking to remote areas, but still try to report to village authorities as you go along. Some more remote areas in the region may be off limits to foreigners; the police in Wamena will let you know about the current situation.

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