Tuesday, June 1, 2010


Several tribes around the Baliem Valley are grouped together under the name ‘ Dani’, a rather pejorative term given by neighbouring tribes. Each tribe within the Dani group, however, is distinguishable by language, physical appearance, dress and social customs. The Dani are friendly, but can be shy. Long handshakes allowing time to really feel the other’s hand are common.

Most Dani speak Bahasa Indonesia, but appreciate a greeting in their own language. Around Wamena, a man greeting another man says nayak; if greeting more than one man, nayak lak. When greeting a woman, a man says la’uk, or la’uk nya to more than one. Women also say (to men or women) la’uk to one person and la’uk nya to more than one. The northern and western Dani groups speak a dialect of Dani distinct from that spoken in the Wamena area.

Dani men often wear a penis sheath (horim) made of a cultivated gourd, the shape and size of which varies greatly from group to group. Many Dani, particularly in more remote areas, wear pig fat in their hair and cover their bodies in pig fat and soot for warmth. Traditionally, men wear no other clothing apart from ornamentation such as string hair nets, cenderawasih feathers and cowrie-shell necklaces. Unmarried women usually wear grass skirts, while married women traditionally wear skirts of fibre coils or seeds strung together, hung just below the abdomen. Dani women often carry string bags around their heads, usually heavily laden with vegetables, or even babies or pigs.

Dani men and women sleep apart in traditional Dani houses called honai (circular thatched-roof huts). The men from one compound sleep tightly packed in one hut, while women and children sleep in other huts. After a birth, sex is taboo for the mother for two to five years, apparently to give the child exclusive use of her milk. As a result, the average Dani life expectancy is 60 years, which is relatively high among traditional people, but this practice also contributes to polygamy and a high divorce rate. Despite pressure from the numerous missionaries around the valley, many Dani have maintained their polygamous marriage system - a man may have as many wives as he can afford. A man must give four or five pigs to the family of the girl he wishes to marry; his social status is measured by the number of pigs and wives he has.

One of the Dani’s more unusual (and now prohibited) customs is to amputate one or two joints of a woman’s finger when a close relative dies - you’ll see many older women with fingers missing up to their second joint. Dani women will also often smother themselves with clay and mud at the time of a family death.

Throughout the region, locals request 1000Rp to 3000Rp or a cigarette or two if you want to take their photo, but they’ll sometimes ask for up to 10,000Rp if they’re decked out in feathers or ceremonial costumes.

Papua’s premier trekking destination and its strongest drawcard for foreign visitors, the Baliem Valley remains a fascinating area to visit. The rugged slopes of the Baliem Gorge, etched with its rocky patchwork of sweet potato terraces and thatch-roofed village compounds, are a testament to the resilience of the people who live here. Venturing even further over the valley walls brings trekkers to ever more diverse populations, from the Dani to the Yali and Lani people. Even short treks into the valley are well worth the effort.

The only half-decent map of the valley is the Tourist Map, available from the Nayak Hotel in Wamena. However, do not use it as a substitute for a knowledgeable guide: the map is not completely accurate, nor is it detailed enough for trekking.

What to Bring
Everything is comparatively expensive in Wamena, so stock up in Sentani or Jayapura or bring your own supplies from home. Take a torch (flashlight) for exploring the caves in the area. Nights are always cold and usually wet, so bring warm clothes and waterproof gear if you’re camping.

There is nowhere to rent hiking, camping or cooking equipment in Wamena, Jayapura or Sentani, so if you’re trekking independently you’ll have to bring your own gear. This will add considerable weight to your limited luggage allowance on the flights to/from Wamena, but you can avoid this by staying in village huts and eating local food - conditions will be basic but unforgettable. If you book a trek through an agency, it will provide all equipment except a sleeping bag.

Some larger villages have small kiosks selling biscuits, canned drinks, noodles and rice. The final reliable supplies are at Manda on the northeast side of the valley; Kimbim on the northwest; and Kurima to the south. You can buy sweet potatoes along the way, as well as some other vegetables and eggs at local markets. Your guide should know where to find drinking water, but you should bring tablets, filters or cooking equipment to purify it. If you bring your own bottled water, pack the empties out with you so they don’t end up littering the trails.

Guides will know which villages around the valley still maintain Dani-style guest huts. If you’re trekking independently and aren’t toting a tent, your best options are to ask for a bed in the house of a teacher. Otherwise, ask at the village police station or the kepala desa where you can stay.

Sleeping on the floor of a Dani home is a last resort; and make sure you’ve been invited before entering a compound or hut. Dani huts are havens for all sorts of pesky insects; one traveller reported being badly bitten by fleas (from the pigs) and she was still madly scratching flea bites two months later.

Guides can make temporary shelters from trees and rocks, but this is not the lowest-impact way to go.

Guides & Porters
If you’re travelling off the main roads or paths, a guide is essential. There are no decent maps of the valley, and a guide can help decide where to go, facilitate communication with locals, find or create places to stay, explain the local customs and ecology - plus, you’ll get to know a local person.

Depending on the season and the number of tourists in town, guides will latch onto you as soon as you arrive in Wamena (and even in Sentani). An unfortunately common problem is that some guides, porters and/or cooks refuse to finish the trek until they’re paid more than initially agreed. To avoid this, grill your fellow travelers for recommendations, or seek advice at the Wamena airport police office. The local police know the trustworthy local guides from the ones who’ve cheated past clients. And for what it’s worth, if anything goes amiss you’ll have someone to complain to.

When organising a trek yourself, allow a couple of days in Wamena to arrange things, and bargain long and hard. Consider ‘test-driving’ a guide on a day hike before committing to anything longer term.

Porters are a very good idea. On longer treks you may need two per trekker: one for a backpack and another for camping and cooking gear and food. You will have to provide enough food for all guides, porters and cooks, and anything left over at the end should be distributed among the crew.

Day Hikes Without a Guide
Follow designated paths and/or roads, you can easily enjoy the short hikes listed below without a guide.
  • Aikima-Suroba-Dugum-Mulima (three hours) - follow the foothills from Aikima to Dugum, then head back to the main road
  • Elagaima-Ibele (three hours) - just follow the main road, and take a taxi one way
  • Kimbim-Pummo (three hours) - mostly flat countryside, but only possible in the dry season when the Baliem River isn’t too high
  • Manda-Bugi (1½ hours) - a short, pleasant stroll
  • Sugokmo-Kurima (two hours) - follow the main road/path; there’s somewhere to stay in Kurima

Day Hikes With a Guide
Only a few of the many possible day hikes are listed below - your guide will know many more. For these hikes, you will need a guide to find the best and most direct paths and bridges. You can hire a guide in Wamena, or possibly a more knowledgeable one at the village you start from.
  • Assologaima-Meagaima (four to five hours) - in Assologaima, Indonesian Independence Day (17 August) is marked with pig feasts, and traditional dancing and cooking
  • Bolokme-Tagime-Kelila (seven hours) - consider staying in Kelila
  • Kurima-Hitugi (three hours) - there’s a place to stay in Kurima
  •  Meagaima-Manda-Bugi-Wolo (four hours)
  • Meagaima-Manda-Munak-Pyramid (four hours) - can be combined with Pyramid-Pummo-Meagaima (3½ hours)
  • Sugokmo-Tangma (five hours)
  • Wolo-Ilugua (three hours) - two-thirds of the way, a track to the right leads around a huge sinkhole and down to Gua Yogolok and Goundal, a village on the floor of an awesome canyon

Organised Treks
Depending on your bargaining skills, the number of fellow trekkers in your group, and the company you deal with, using a travel agency may not be much more expensive than organising a trek yourself. However, budget-priced trekking companies based in Wamena have trouble staying afloat (though they may reopen if and when tourism picks up again), so those listed below are upmarket agencies based in top-end resorts in the Baliem Valley or located in Jayapura. Agencies generally arrange special events like mock tribal fighting and pig feasts during stays in the local villages.
Advindo Tours (Jl Percetakan 17; h8am-5pm) This Jayapura agency offers a solid selection of package tours around the Baliem Valley for up to 14 days. Five-day/four-night Baliem Valley trekking trips (minimum of two).
Baliem Valley Resort. From the most upscale resort in the Baliem Valley come the priciest tours: five-day/four-night packages (including day treks, all transfers, accommodations and meals); minimum of two. Unless you’re staying at the relatively isolated resort, make tour inquiries before arriving in Wamena.
Papua Adventure Tours & Travel (Komplek Kotaraja, Jl Raya Abepura; h8am-5pm) Specialising in multiday trekking trips in the Baliem Valley and the Asmat, this agency (near the provincial tourist office) offers five-day/four-night treks for around US$575 per person (minimum of two, excluding airfare).

Getting There & Away
Flying into Wamena is the only way to access the Baliem Valley.

Getting Around
Trekking is certainly the best way to explore the landscape, witness special ceremonies and visit traditional people, but if you don’t have the time, money or inclination to trek, don’t be put off coming to the Baliem Valley. It is possible to see some traditional people, villages and customs, as well as mummies, markets, hanging bridges and wild pigs, on day trips by public/chartered taxi from Wamena - and it will be far cheaper and easier than arranging a trek.

Hopelessly overcrowded taxis head out from Wamena as far north on the western side of the valley to Pyramid (35km, two hours); and north on the eastern side to Tagime (44km, 2½ hours). Public transport tends to slow down to a trickle all around the valley after 3pm and is less plentiful on Sunday. Almost no village or tourist attraction is signposted, so ask your taxi driver (or guide) to let you know when to get off.

All taxis are coded with numbers and/or letters, but knowing which one to take and from where it departs in Wamena is a tad confusing:

Around Wamena Taxis marked ‘A3’ leave for Wesaput from along Jl Timor (opposite the main post office) in Wamena, and travel via Jl Gatot Subroto.
Baliem Valley - East The following taxis all leave from Terminal Jibama in Wamena. Taxis marked ‘MM’ go to Aikima, via Pikhe; ‘SL’ depart for Pikhe only; ‘TM’ and ‘KL’ head to Manda, via Jiwika and Wosilimo; and ‘BT’ leave for Bolokme and Tagime. Taxis that are marked, or claim to go to, ‘Kurulu’ actually start/finish at Jiwika. (Kurulu is the name of the local district based in Jiwika.)
Baliem Valley - South From the southern terminal, colloquially known as the ‘Misi’ terminal (Jl Ahmad Yani), taxis marked ‘SG’ or ‘SK’ go to Sugokmo. Those marked ‘HM’ stop at Hitigima.
Baliem Valley - West Taxis marked ‘KMP’ go to Kimbim and Pyramid , but you may need to get a connection in Kimbim for Pyramid. Taxis marked ‘A1’ go to Sinatma from the corner of Jl Trikora and Jl Timor in Wamena. Those marked ‘IB’ leave for Ibele from Sinatma.

It is worth considering charter of a taxi  in order to avoid the sardine-cans-on-wheels or to reach more remote places. Paying for empty seats will always hurry up your departure - and make you very popular with other impatient passengers.

The main town in the Baliem Valley, and the capital of the Jayawijaya district, Wamena is dusty and sprawling. Although there’s not much to do in the town itself, it really is the only base from which to explore nearby villages and organise treks. Wamena is expensive compared to the rest of Indonesia, but this is understandable because everything - from doors to floors, and a whole lot more - has to be shipped to Jayapura, trucked to Sentani, and then flown to Wamena.

Many hotels, restaurants and other important buildings are along (or close to) Jl Trikora, only one block from the airport. While the main street is not especially attractive, just a few blocks to the west some lovely, quiet streets, such as Jl Thamrin, are worth wandering around. Take a torch (flashlight) at night, because there are few street lights anywhere.

Unless you plan on extracting cash from the ATMs (which all banks in town now have), you’re well advised to stock up on rupiah before coming to Wamena. There’s nowhere else in the valley to change money. Wartel, aside from the Telkom office, are located along Jl Trikora.
Bank Mandiri (Jl Trikora 92) Will only change US dollars cash.
Bank Papua (Jl Trikora 45) Has lousy rates and endless lines.
BRI bank (Bank Rakyat Indonesia; cnr Jl Yos Sudarso & Jl Trikora)
Main post office (Jl Timor; h8am-2pm Mon-Thu & Sat, 8am-11am Fri) Reasonably efficient.
Papua.com (Jl Ahmad Yani 49; h8am-10pm Mon-Sat, noon-10pm Sun) Surprisingly fast connections in this efficient little internet café.
Rumah Sakit Umum (Jl Trikora) You’re better off getting sick or injured elsewhere, but if you need a hospital you’ll get the bare minimum of care here.
Telkom office (Jl Thamrin; h24hr)
Tourist office (Jl Yos Sudarso 73; h8am-3pm Mon-Fri) This office is barely worth recommending, as the disinterested staff have very little on-the-ground knowledge of the area. If you go, the unsigned office is about 3km from the BRI building; look for the Indonesian flag outside the red-and-white brick building on the left as you come from Wamena.

Though most hotels in Wamena don’t have water heaters, staff can usually bring a bucket of freshly boiled water for guests who don’t fancy a frigid bath.

Hotel Syah Rial Makmur (Jl Gatot Subroto 45) The cheapest place in Wamena. Each room is different - so check out a few before deciding on one - most are simple, with squat toilets. It’s only a three-minute walk from the airport.
Nayak Hotel (Jl Gatot Subroto 63) Directly opposite the airport, this has plenty of rooms that include breakfast, TV and phone. The cheaper rooms facing the road and airport are a little noisy, but they’re large, tidy and good value.
Pondok Wisata Putri Dani (Jl Irian 40) About 600m past Hotel Srikandi, this little place offers spotless, comfortable rooms in a family home. The friendly owners provide breakfast, as well as endless tea and coffee. It’s often full, so book ahead.
Hotel Srikandi (Jl Irian 16) Friendly and tidy, with afternoon tea included - but no breakfast. However, the rooms are small, the bathrooms have a squat toilet, and it’s noisy when there are numerous guests or the TV at reception is cranked up loud.
Wamena Hotel (Jl Homhom 61) Worth considering for some peace, seclusion and greenery, but the basic rooms surrounding the garden badly need some renovation. Breakfast is included here. The hotel is about 2km north of Jl Pattimura, an easy trip by becak or taxi.

Hot water can be prepared for you if water heaters are not available, and breakfast is included in rates at these hotels.
Pondok Wisata Mas Budi (Jl Pattimura) Attached to the restaurant of the same name, this family-run hotel offers a few large, clean and modern rooms (some with squat toilets). The serenity may be shattered if the karaoke machine winds up next door, but you won’t have to walk far for a bite to eat.
Hotel Anggrek (Jl Ambon 1) Immaculate, convenient and comfortable, this guesthouse is one of the few hotels in central Wamena that offers hot water. The warm, family-style atmosphere and homemade jams and house-roasted coffee (!) could explain why it’s often full.
Baliem Pilamo Hotel (Jl Trikora) Tropical-garden kitsch might justify the otherwise exorbitant prices; some bathrooms have delightful fake-lava walls adorned with plants. If you can live without TV, the low-end rooms here are a decent deal, but make sure you stay away from the noisy road. There’s also a restaurant here.
Baliem Valley Resort. A majestic three-star resort set in 12 sq km of pristine countryside a 10km drive north of Wamena. The guest rooms are designed in the style of traditional honai (huts), with stone-walled showers, wood floors and spectacular views. The German proprietor runs his own expensive tours from here and has a wealth of expertise on the area.

The local specialities are goldfish (ikan mas in Bahasa Indonesia) - far larger than the variety found in your goldfish bowl - and prawns (udang), which are more like cray-fish. Both are expensive and in short supply, however. The restaurants listed below, except for Kantin Bu Lies, offer menus with items listed in English.
Kantin Bu Lies (Jl Gatot Subroto; lunch & dinner) Next door to the airport, this spot is recommended for simple Indonesian food, though prices can be steep. It’s the best place to wait for your flight.
Mentari Restoran (Jl Yos Sudarso 47; lunch & dinner) A delightful spot with genuine charm. It’s unsigned (look for the ‘fork-and-spoon’ sign along the road), a 30-minute walk up from the BRI bank building (or a short taxi ride towards Sinatma).
Rumah Makan Mas Budi (Jl Pattimura; lunch & dinner) The food and service here is commendable, and the place is deservedly popular. The bad news is that the karaoke machine inevitably cranks up most evenings.

Wamena is strictly designated a ‘dry’ area, so no alcohol should be brought into the capital by travellers. Your bags will be checked at the airport for contraband. Some hotels sell beer for discreet, pricey

The Dani are fine craftspeople, so potential souvenirs can be found all over the valley. Generally, it’s cheaper to buy directly from the Dani in the villages, but they often strike a hard bargain, so it’s also wise to check out prices in the shops and markets. Traders will approach you on the streets of Wamena or hang around the doorways of popular hotels and restaurants. Bartering is also acceptable.

The cost of stone axe blades (kapak in the Dani language) depends on the size and the labour involved; blue stone is the hardest and considered the finest material and is more expensive. Sekan are thin, intricately hand-woven rattan bracelets. Noken are string bags made from the inner bark of certain types of trees and shrubs, which is dried, shredded and then rolled into thread. The bags are colored with vegetable dyes, resulting in a very strong smell; patterns vary according to their origin.

Other handicrafts include: various head and arm necklaces (mikak) of cowrie shells, feathers and bone; grass skirts (jogal and thali); assorted head decorations (suale), made entirely of cassowary feathers or topped off with the tusks of a wild pig. Asmat woodcarvings, shields and spears are also available in the souvenir shops, but be wary of price and quality.
Of course, the most popular souvenir is the penis gourd, held upright by attaching a thread to the top and looping it around the waist or chest.

Silimo Jaya (Jl Thamrin 2) Worth supporting if you can find something appealing, this genuine cooperative of Dani people makes and sells traditional crafts. Unfortunately, it suffers from neglect and has only a few pots on offer.
Papua Glory (Jl Trikora 3) This shop is one of several souvenir merchants near the corner of Jl Trikora and Jl Ambon. Here, the young proprietor stocks an interesting selection of Papuan and PNG art and handicrafts.

Getting There & Away
Since flying is the only way in and out of the valley, flights are often heavily booked, especially during the peak season (August). Always allow a couple of days’ leeway for inevitable delays when travelling into or out of Wamena.

Trigana Air Service is the main carrier into and out of Wamena, with four flights a day. The fare from Wamena to Sentani is a bit less than the Sentani to Wamena, when the planes are jam-packed with cargo. Trigana also flies from Wamena to Mulia, Karubaga and Bokondini. Book at the Trigana office.
The missionary service, MAF, also flies between Sentani and Wamena once or twice a day, but the flights are almost triple the cost of Trigana’s. MAF also flies to more obscure destinations around the highlands, such as Ilaga and Enarotali. Schedules are posted outside the MAF office (Wamena; Jl Gatot Subroto; Sentani; Jl Misi Sentani).
The Indonesian army (TNI) also offers several cheap flights a day from Wamena to Sentani (only). These are primarily for locals and the military, but it is another possibility. Inquire at the TNI office inside the airport terminal in Wamena.

Getting Around
Most hotels in Wamena are within walking distance of the scruffy airport. For longer trips around town, take a becak. Becak can be hailed from along any street, but they don’t run at night and they’re not allowed along Jl Yos Sudarso at any time. They also evaporate when it rains!. Those marked ‘A2’ and ‘A3’ head up Jl Trikora to the ‘pasar’, officially called Terminal Jibama, several kilometres north of Wamena. It’s a short walk to the ‘Misi’ taxi terminal on Jl Ahmad Yani.

Almost a suburb of Wamena, Wesaput is just across the other side of the airport. It’s only accessible by becak or public taxi ; paths across the runway have been blocked by a large fence. A decrepit stone clock marks the start of Jl Musium, the road through Wesaput.

At the end of Jl Musium, 800m past the clock, is the Palimo Adat Museum (h8am-4pm Mon-Sat). It offers a small but interesting collection of Dani clothing, decorations and instruments, and is worth a look if only because it’s the sole museum in the valley. It does keep erratic hours, so it’s best to visit before noon. At the back of the museum is the nearest hanging bridge to Wamena. Strung across Sungai Baliem, it’s 90m long and unstable at times. A tiny, impromptu Dani market is often set up by the bridge.

The path from the other side of the bridge in Wesaput leads to Pugima, which has a few Dani compounds (past the huge church). Although Pugima is not particularly interesting, the one-hour, flat trail (with one small hill) from Wesaput provides an easy and convenient glimpse of Dani farms, villages and people, and of the magnificent scenery. Halfway along, behind a small lake, Gua Pugima is an eerie cave.

At the end of Jl Yos Sudarso, about 3.5km past the BRI bank building, is the ‘suburb’ of Sinatma, where there’s a taxi terminal and a large, busy market (open daily). From the terminal, head right as you face Wa- mena and easy walking trails lead you to the raging Sungai Wamena, some pretty Dani compounds and dense woodlands. Near the small hydroelectric power station further up the hill you can cross the river on a treacherous hanging bridge.

The area south of Wamena, hugging Sungai Baliem, boasts the most dramatic mountain scenery in the valley.
About 10km from Wamena, Hitigima has a school and mission. A sign on the right as you head south, a few hundred meters past the church, indicates the path (2km) to some saltwater wells (air garam in Bahasa Indonesia), similar to the ones near Jiwika.

Near the bridge in Sugokmo, 6km further on, is a small memorial to a Japanese tourist and his Dani guide who drowned when a hanging bridge collapsed. Another 2km brings you to Yetni, the primary site of the Baliem Festival.

The main road finishes near Yetni, from where it’s a 45-minute walk to Kurima. (The hike to Kurima does involve crossing a river that’s often waist-deep during the wet season.) Kurima is a charming village and a perfect base for hikes around the southern valley. If you ask around, someone will almost certainly be able to find you a bed.

The main road heading north along the eastern side of the valley is paved most of the way, and public transport continues as far as Tagime. The area near the bridge in Pikhe is excellent for short hikes.

About 8km north of Wamena as the crow flies (but about 13km by road), just to the east of the road to Jiwika, is Aikima. This nondescript village is famous for its 270- year-old Werapak Elosak mummy (daylight hours), but the one near Jiwika is more accessible and in better condition. To see the Aikima mummy, ask at the large, round hut slightly up a hill on the left-hand side of the road as you come from Wamena.

Suroba & Dugum
Just off the main road, the pretty villages of Suroba and Dugum are worth exploring. Ask the taxi driver to let you off at the nearest spot along the main road. Then walk (15 minutes) along the path through someof the nicest scenery you’ll see around Wamena, and over two fascinating and intricate hanging bridges - one for locals and another more stable one for timid foreigners. At a clearing nearby, traditional pig feasts and dancing can be prearranged at substantial cost, mainly for packaged tours. If you ask around either village, there’s a good chance you’ll be offered some basic accommodation in a Dani hut.

Jiwika (pronounced Yiwika) is a local administrative centre, a pleasant base from which to explore the eastern valley, and a cheap, quiet alternative to Wamena. Ask around and you may be able to arrange a mock fighting ceremony between villagers.

At Iluwe, about one hour up a steep path (with some scrambling at the top) from Jiwika, are some saltwater wells (daylight hours). To extract the salt, banana stems are beaten dry of fluid and put in a pool to soak up the brine. The stem is then dried and burned, and the ashes are collected and used as salt. If a local boy in Jiwika doesn’t offer his services as a guide, ask one to show you the way and to find out if anyone is working at the wells. Start the hike from Jiwika before 10am.

At the turn-off to Iluwe in Jiwika is Lauk Inn, the only proper accommodation outside Wamena, and a lovely spot to boot. It offers basic but clean rooms (as opposed to Dani-style huts), and decent meals are available for guests if preordered. If the place looks closed, just rattle the gate loudly or ask at the shop next door.

Sumpaima, just north of Jiwika (look for the blue sign), is home to the 280-year-old Wimontok Mabel mummy (daylight hours). It is the best and most accessible of its kind near Wamena. Gua Kotilola The road between Jiwika and Wosilimo is flanked by rocky hills in which some of the valley’s 50 listed c aves are located. At the back of an attractive Dani compound, Gua Kotilola (h8am-4pm Mon-Sat) apparently contains the bones of victims of a past tribal war. It’s on the right as you head north from Jiwika, about 22km from Wamena. Ask the taxi driver to drop you off outside the compound and yell for someone to open the gate.

Wosilimo (or ‘Wosi’) is a major village with a few shops. Gua Wikuda (8am-4pm Mon-Sat), along the road to Pass Valley, is nearly 900m long and boasts stalagmites over 1000 years old. The cave has been developed by some Dani people who will take you for a tour, though you can’t see much without a lamp.

One hour southwest from Wosi on foot, along a small path behind the church and over a hanging bridge, is Danau Anegerak. This lake is another delightful area for hiking, and fishing is also available (locals rent out basic fishing equipment). You should be able to stay near the lake in a Dani-style hut.

Pass Valley
A rough road continues from Wosilimo to Pass Valley. There is no public transport along this road, but Pass Valley is a popular place for trekking.

This enticing village has a shop and market, as well as loads of friendly people to meet, and wonderful scenery to admire and landscapes to hike around. Ask if the authentic Dani-style huts are open. They’re not signposted, but easy to find just behind the market.

Wolo Valley
This is one of the most spectacular side valleys of Sungai Baliem. Inspired by a resolute strain of Evangelical Protestantism, Wolo is a nonsmoking village with lovely flower gardens. There is plenty of great hiking to be done in the area.

The western side of the valley isn’t as scenic for hiking or as interesting for day trips by taxi from Wamena; in fact, the road from Wamena to Pyramid (a six-hour walk) is comparatively dull.

Kimbim is a pleasant administrative centre with a few shops and a busy market. You should be able to find somewhere to stay if you ask at the police station or district office. About one hour on foot from Kimbim (ask directions), Araboda is home to the 250-year-old Alongga Huby mummy (herratic opening hours).

About 7km past Kimbim is Pyramid, a graceful missionary village with a theological college, sloping airstrip and bustling market. Some taxis from Wamena go directly to Pyramid, but you may have to get a connection in Kimbim.

This lake (3450m above sea level) is a wonderful trekking area and home to unique flora (including orchids). Also nearby are several caves, such as Gua Simalak.

The lake is sometimes off limits to foreigners because of the nefarious activities of the Free Papua Movement (OPM). In any case, always check with the police in Wamena before visiting the lake and make sure your surat jalan includes ‘Danau Habbema’. One reader has reported that some locals he encountered on the way to the lake demanded money from him to cross ‘their land’.

There are two usual ways to reach the lake: trek from Elagaima, via Ibele (accessible by public taxi from Sinatma) and Thaila; or trek from Sinatma, via Walaek. (This road is sometimes accessible by vehicle as far as Pabilolo.) For both treks, you’ll need a guide. Private camping is tolerated in the region, or ask to sleep in a local hut along the way. Some basic Dani-style accommodation is also available along the northern side of the lake.

Gunung Trikora (4750m) is just 300m shy of Puncak Jaya, Papua’s highest peak. Mountain-climbing experience, sturdy equipment and a knowledgeable guide are essential for climbing Trikora. Also re- quired is a special permit, which can only be obtained from the army headquarters in Jakarta. Given plenty of notice, the tour agencies listed in the Jayapura section later may be able to organise trips.

West along Sungai Baliem and upstream from Pyramid is the home of the Western Dani who call themselves Lani. One accessible Lani village is Magi, about 1½ hours on foot from Kimbim or Pyramid.

Further west, between Sungai Pitt and Kuyawage, the Baliem disappears underground for 2km. Ilaga, about 60km west of Kuyawage, beyond the western Baliem waters hed, is accessible by missionary flights from Nabire, Sentani and Wamena, but make sure your surat jalan allows you to travel this far.

East and south of the Baliem Valley are the Yali people. They live in rectangular houses, and the men often wear ‘skirts’ of rattan hoops, with penis gourds protruding from underneath. The Indonesian presence is thinner here than in the Baliem Valley, so missionaries provide much of the infra- structure, such as schools and transport. Bordering the Yali to the east are the Kim-Yal people, who practised cannibalism up until the 1970s.

Reaching Yali country on foot involves plenty of tough hiking along steep trails. Pronggoli, the nearest centre from Wamena as the crow flies, is a three-day slog by the most direct route, with camping necessary along the way. From Pronggoli to Angguruk takes another day. It’s then relatively easy trekking from Angguruk to nearby villages, such as Panggele, Psekni, Tulukima and Tenggil.

An easier but longer (about seven days) option is the southern loop through Kurima-Tangma-Wet-Soba Ninia, and then north on to Angguruk village. Another popular trek is Kosarek-Serkasi-Telambela Membahan-Helariki-Angguruk (about six days). You can cut this tough trek by taking a missionary flight (more likely if you’re on an organised tour) from Wamena to Kosarek or Angguruk. You can usually rely on a hut belonging to a local family or a teacher’s house for somewhere to stay in the area, but bring all your own food.

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