West Papua with Okale

This item appears on page 56 of the March 2011 issue.
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I first traveled to West Papua, New Guinea, Indonesia, 19 years ago when it was called Irian Jaya. I hiked steep trails to villages, slept on the floors of longhouses in headhunter/cannibal territory and wondered at the never-ending variety of penis gourds that were the dress for men, complementing the women’s grass skirts.

In June ’10 I traveled to West Papua with a friend. Perhaps not surprisingly, I discovered that it has made tremendous strides in catching up with the “modern” world in the intervening years.

Village chieftain, West Papua, New Guinea. Photo: Howland

Paved roads filled with cars and trucks abound, and there is even a sprinkling of sidewalks in the capital, Jayapura. In the markets, I saw only a few old-timers wearing penis gourds, and the traditionally garbed bare-breasted women in grass skirts now wander amongst myriad people sporting jeans and dresses.

Transmigration programs have placed hundreds of thousands of Indonesians on this island, diluting the traditional tribal culture.

Nineteen years ago I hired a twenty-something Dani tribesman named Okale to guide me through the Baliem Valley. Since then, I’ve followed his adventures in tourism school, marriage and parenthood. Now a mature and self-assured man, Okale met us at the airport and for five days guided us by foot (and car), with our base in Wamena in the Baliem Valley.

He got our West Papua salat jalans (travel permits) for us for $120 (we obtained our Indonesia visas, ourselves, upon our arrival) and arranged for us to charter a car ($180 per day).

He also arranged for us to see a mock battle in one village, complete with a chief with a phenomenal headdress. The chief told us that it contained his soul.

A trek to another village afforded us an opportunity to eat a traditional meal cooked over hot coals. (We decided to forgo the traditional pig sacrifice and roast.) A day trip to explore a cave took us through breathtaking mountain scenery.

West Papua is not an inexpensive destination. A pig feast, had we done one, would have cost $500 for a group. Okale’s guiding fee was $40 a day. Porters ran $20 a day (we did not use them this trip, as we did not trek). There are a number of hotels of varying quality and price or one could spend a night in a traditional village. The round-trip flight from Jayapura to Wamena cost $172.

On the way back to Jayapura, our flight had been delayed for hours, so Okale got us two seats (out of the four) on a cargo jet plane. It was an interesting experience. We drove around the back of the airport, slipped through a metal fence and boarded the plane with all our luggage — no x-rays, pat-downs, etc. We got to go into the cockpit and watched the pilots fly the thing.

Okale Huby (phone 0813 8019 8733 or e-mail okalenemhu@yahoo.co.nz) can arrange a complete package, including all fees, permits, accommodations and food.

If you have any questions, feel free to e-mail me c/o ITN.

LYNDA HOWLAND

Pittsford, NY

Please login or subscribe to ITN to read the entire post.

I first traveled to West Papua, New Guinea, Indonesia, 19 years ago when it was called Irian Jaya. I hiked steep trails to villages, slept on the floors of longhouses in headhunter/cannibal territory and wondered at the never-ending variety of penis gourds that were the dress for men, complementing the women’s grass skirts.

In June ’10 I traveled to West Papua with a friend. Perhaps not surprisingly, I discovered that it has made tremendous strides in catching up with the “modern” world in the intervening years.

Village chieftain, West Papua, New Guinea. Photo: Howland

Paved roads filled with cars and trucks abound, and there is even a sprinkling of sidewalks in the capital, Jayapura. In the markets, I saw only a few old-timers wearing penis gourds, and the traditionally garbed bare-breasted women in grass skirts now wander amongst myriad people sporting jeans and dresses.

Transmigration programs have placed hundreds of thousands of Indonesians on this island, diluting the traditional tribal culture.

Nineteen years ago I hired a twenty-something Dani tribesman named Okale to guide me through the Baliem Valley. Since then, I’ve followed his adventures in tourism school, marriage and parenthood. Now a mature and self-assured man, Okale met us at the airport and for five days guided us by foot (and car), with our base in Wamena in the Baliem Valley.

He got our West Papua salat jalans (travel permits) for us for $120 (we obtained our Indonesia visas, ourselves, upon our arrival) and arranged for us to charter a car ($180 per day).

He also arranged for us to see a mock battle in one village, complete with a chief with a phenomenal headdress. The chief told us that it contained his soul.

A trek to another village afforded us an opportunity to eat a traditional meal cooked over hot coals. (We decided to forgo the traditional pig sacrifice and roast.) A day trip to explore a cave took us through breathtaking mountain scenery.

West Papua is not an inexpensive destination. A pig feast, had we done one, would have cost $500 for a group. Okale’s guiding fee was $40 a day. Porters ran $20 a day (we did not use them this trip, as we did not trek). There are a number of hotels of varying quality and price or one could spend a night in a traditional village. The round-trip flight from Jayapura to Wamena cost $172.

On the way back to Jayapura, our flight had been delayed for hours, so Okale got us two seats (out of the four) on a cargo jet plane. It was an interesting experience. We drove around the back of the airport, slipped through a metal fence and boarded the plane with all our luggage — no x-rays, pat-downs, etc. We got to go into the cockpit and watched the pilots fly the thing.

Okale Huby (phone 0813 8019 8733 or e-mail okalenemhu@yahoo.co.nz) can arrange a complete package, including all fees, permits, accommodations and food.

If you have any questions, feel free to e-mail me c/o ITN.

LYNDA HOWLAND

Pittsford, NY