Being in West Papua and not experiencing a direct contact with local people or tribes living in the remote villages somewhere in the jungle or mountains would mean not being there at all .. we were anticipating this for a long time and our dream finally came true: we managed to reach Papuan villages and meet local people. We did it without a guide, porters and without a non-essential travel permit, thanks to which we saved about 400-500EUR! We followed the trail through the picturesque mountainous Baliem Valley starting our trekking in Kurima heading to Hitugi, and continuing to Userem, Yuarima until we reached Yogosem, a village situated at an altitude of 2500m above the sea level. This would not be possible without learning the basics of Bahasia Indonesia (without learning the language you cannot communicate with local people and will not get to know their culture well), plus our determination and stamina turned out to be be paramount in that experience too 🙂 (the most strenuous trekking path from Yuarima to Yogosem took us about 3.5 hours and all the time we were to trek the steep trail up, and at the end of it we literally had the opportunity to stand in the clouds :)). We didn’t meet any white people on the way during our 4 day trekking and in fact we felt ourselves to be the main attraction for the locals, especially in Yogosem. In this post you will be provided with more details regarding our 4-day adventure including the info how we got to Kurima, and where we slept and ate with locals for 7-8 EUR per day per person! 🙂
Someone could say: ,, I wouldn’t go on a trekking to an unknown valley to traverse 55km alone without a guide, without a porter carrying my 15-20kg backpack and without a travel permit to places far from the Papuan towns. I do not know the language, I can get lost or have problems with getting to the site or even get stuck somewhere in the wilderness and then what ..?! ”. Relax .. There is a way for all these concerns and we hope that thanks to our pieces of advice you will be able to organize a similar ‘’expedition’’ too 🙂 Here are our tips:
1.Learn the basics of Indonesian language, which is really one of the easiest (if not the easiest) Asian languages. Knowing around 50 basic words you will be able to communicate with local people. Feel free to check our separate post including the basic Indonesian vocabulary which will be extremely useful during your adventure in the Baliem Valley. It is worth noting that no matter whether you decide to do the trekking or not, anywhere in Papua or Sulawesi English will be useless if you want to explore these islands yourself without a guide.
2.To reach Wamena in West Papua, where you can start the same trekking like us (Kurima-Hitugi-Userem-Yuarima-Yogosem and back) you need to take a plane from Jayapura (the price is about 25-35EUR one way ). Does it have to be the plane? Unfortunately yes, as there are no roads connecting Wamena and Jayapura. You should remember one important thing: you can not carry more than 10kg of checked baggage per person. We were flying with Wings Air, but our housekeeper from our homestay in Jayapura told us that this is a general rule for all the flights to Wamena. We decided to leave most of our luggage in the Homestay Galpera Papua in Waena near the airport in Jayapura (anyway there is no other way than to come back to Jayapura Airport from Wamena to later leave West Papua). This way we set off to the Baliem Valley with one 8kg larger backpack and one 3-4kg rucksack. Following the only steep trail to Yogosem on the second day we left half of our luggage in the Hitugi village, where we came back on the last night before going back to Kurima. Even if we hadn’t stayed there for a night there wouldn’t have been any problem to do it for free.
3.What about the travel permit? If you talk to some English speaking guides in West Papua, you will be informed that every visitor who decides to go on a trekking to remote areas outside the main cities is required to have a travel permit to be allowed to travel in those areas (Indonesian: surat jalan). The permit costs $ 10 and you can get it in an office in Jayapura or even better: at the police station in Kurima (a copy of your passport will be needed, for which you will probably have to pay additionally). Is the permit really obligatory? First of all, if you go trekking on your own without a guide believe us that no one will check or control any papers, there is not even such a thing as an entrance ticket to the Baliem Valley. In practice it looks like Papuans want to make a tourist pay 10USD but only when he or she themselves will politely come to the office or the police station. The paper doesn’t give you any security while trekking in fact. On one of foreign blogs we read that the there is a lot of conflicting information regarding the fact as whether the travel permit is indeed necessary in the villages surrounding Wamena, and actually starting the trek in Kurima you will not even see any sign telling you that upon entering the valley you need to have a special permit with you … (after passing the famous suspension bridge on the Mugi River)… but of course everyone will do as he or she prefers. Who wants to pay, will pay. We went there assuming that if the police in Kurima had stopped us just before starting the trek, we would of course have bought the permit then and that’s it.
4.What about the guide? Upon landing in Wamena you will be hassled by local guides offering their services. If you want to follow exactly the same trail like us, trust us, you do not have to spend your money on guides. The English speaking guides will charge you from 700.000IDR (50EUR) up to 150EUR for 1 day (providing porters carrying your bags, a cook and accommodation in the villages). The ‘trail’ is not difficult. It’s only at the very beginning that you can get a bit confused because paths from Kurima to Hitugi may fork about 2-3times, but as along the path you will encounter a lot of local people, you just need to mention the magic word ” Hitugi ” to them and they will show you which way to go. You will find more details on this later in the post. The cheapest trekking ‘tour’ would cost you 100-150.000IDR per day (10EUR, but probably not including the accommodation and food) – this is the price many locals would like to get if you agree that they will guide you where you want to go (of course the communication would only be possible in Bahasa Indonesia).
5.What about the food/provision? We propose to have with you 2 large bottles of water for 1 day for 2 people. When you reach the village you will be able to fill up the bottles for the next day with hot boiled water (Indonesian: air panas). Besides, you can take with you some cookies, crackers and jam or peanut butter. Cookies can also be useful in the villages as you can distribute them to the kids 🙂 The price 150.000IDR (11EUR / the price including 2 people) was the one we paid for the accommodation (Indonesian: tidur) and 2 meals: dinner and breakfast (Indonesian: makan malam & makan pagi). A word of caution: get ready for eating sweet potatoes (Indonesian: kentang manis), rice (Indonesian: nasi), noodles (Indonesian: mie) and corn (Indonesian: jagung) for 4 days. The locals eat noodles from powdered Chinese noodle soups, which (of course) they pour with water (some of them munch them dry, especially children). In the villages you can also buy some avocados from local women – unfortunately we dind’t see any other fruit available there. Michal ate the sweet potatoes, while me when reaching the point of having enough of the potatoes ate some crackers with avocado ”pasta” just after breakfast to fill my stomach 🙂
We hope that your concerns regarding the above points have been quashed. It is now time for some detailed trekking hints, including how much time we had to spend to get to Kurima and the villages:
DAY 1: WAMENA – KURIMA – HITUGI
It is recommendable to take one of the early flights to Wamena from Jayapura. Actually the one around 9 o’clock is enough. Taking into account frequent flight delays you should be on the spot already with your backpack on your back at more or less 11:00. Getting out from the airport go straight ahead until you reach the main road (there is no other way), then turn left and continue straight ahead and finally turn right. It will take you up to 8-10 minutes to reach one of Wamena’s fruit and vegetable markets (Indonesian: pasar). On the left hand side you will notice minibuses. Ask the locals for the one going to Kurima and make sure you will get on the minibus which is ‘’packed with’’ local people. You should pay not more than 20.000IDR (1,50EUR) per person. The ride will be a kind of an adventure especially when a standard road will convert into a gravel bumpy road.
You have 2 options: either sweat buckets inside the vehicle – the way we did when going to Kurima, or jump on the minibus’s roof and feel the wind in your hair during the 30-40min ride (like we did going back to Wamena).
The minibus stops in front of a river which you have to cross walking a wooden decrepit mini-bridge. Then you should get on the next minibus with the same locals.
The price is 10.000IDR (less than 1EUR per person) and after 10 minutes the vehicle stops at a torrent river, which you need to cross.. we got wet up to our thighs there hehe 🙂
Then you’re left with 4-5km to Kurima. You can walk there or bargain a motorbike taxi with a local, we got on one motorbike and paid 20.000IDR (1,50EUR for 2 people) and were dropped off close to the characteristic suspension bridge (Indonesian: jembatan/bridge) on the Mugi river near the police station (Indonesian: kantor polisi).
You should traverse the fields until you get to the bridge and here is where your adventure in the Baliem Valley begins 🙂 From this place you should manage to reach Hitugi trekking about 2.5 hours – it took us exactly this amount of time (just in case: give yourself 3hours to get there). At the beginning the trail goes uphill and don’t be surprised if out of the sudden you find yourself passing through someone’s ‘’farm’’ as many paths lead through villages, then they simply break off and you can go through a clearing near a cottage, pass a football or volleybal field. 🙂
You will often encounter characteristic wooden horns protruding from a fence with steps like the ones on a ladder, which you have to climb, then go down to the other side of the fence and continue trekking following the path 😉
The trek to Hitugi from Kurima seems to be tougher at the start, then the closer you get the easier it is to walk as the trail finally goes downhill.
Here’s the view that greeted us as soon as we got to the village:
We spent a night in such a small house (we were provided with a mattress but had our sleeping bags too). It’s good to have some torch with you too as there is no electricity in the village.
Our bathroom in Hitugi:
Our dinner with a local family:
DAY 2: HITUGI – YUARIMA – YOGOSEM
After eating hot sweet potatoes for breakfast at 6 o’clock and preparing our backpacks (we left half of our luggage in the village) we were ready at 7:00 to set off to Yuarima and Yogosem. The hike at the beginning was very pleasant: for about 1.5 hours we were going downhill until we reached a beautiful Userem village where we met a cute guy from the Dani tribe who upon noticing us left the field for a while (he was working with sweet potatoes). Dani people can be easily recognized thanks to the fact that they don’t wear any clothes all day. The men only cover their penises with so called kotekas (made from a local plant which is first cut and then dried for some time). Unfortunately the Dani people use the fact that they are extremely exotic for the white visitors and demand money for taking pictures with them (but it’s not a fortune, they’re satisfied with: 10.000IDR (Indonesian: sepuluh ribu/less than 1EUR).
The man in the above photo was surprisingly small compared to the others we met. The day before we met another koteka wearer on the way just before reaching Hitugi: 🙂
Passing the Userem village we then had to walk across the suspension bridge to get to the other side of the river – and there we arrived at a small village named Yuarima.
Allegedly you could walk about 30 minutes from a nearby waterfall to get to one of touristy villages of Dani tribe (guided groups of tourists are directed there, always in the same place where the local people are ” prepared ” for their visit). These places are extremely clean, there are on-site gift shops and the locals know that they have to perform a tribal dance around the fireplace to make the white tourists satisfied – and that was the reason why we did not go to any of these villages, we were happy enough to meet quite a few Dani people on the way or working in the field, as already mentioned ;))
From Yuarima you will need to prepare yourself for a tough hike uphill to Yogosem, which can take up to 4-5h (we managed to traverse this route in 3.5 hours). We can not imagine carrying heavy backpacks up to Yogosem. We knew that leaving our luggage in Hitugi was the most appropriate decision. The trail runs through streams, waterfalls and higher hills and mountains. You need to be aware that Yogosem lies at an altitude of 2500m above the sea level. Before we got there we traversed a jungle forest and then found ourselves literally in the clouds 🙂 The Yogosem village itself is located in a valley, so at the end of the hike we were finally coming down the hill and discovered a very nice location of the village surrounded by two waterfalls and possessing its own runway for small planes/avionettes. We wanted to find out the price of an airline ticket to this place, as we heard, that usually tourists get there by plane to later do the trekking from Yogosem, through Yuarima, Hitugi till they reach Kurima. We only heard that we should expect to pay 1 million IDR for a plane ticket from Wamena (less than 100EUR).
The people in Yogosem turned out to be the most sociable, open and communicative right from the start, especially a large group of kids who did not leave us for a moment. As soon as they noticed us entering the village they followed us to a small house where we stayed and soon we found their faces glued to the windows of the house observing our every move. After a moment a large group entered the house 😉 Later Michal was playing football and volleyball with them and showed them some tricks with our waterproof go pro camera; kids stared in disbelief and watched; it was so funny to spend the time with them:)
In Yogosem we paid the same price for accommodation and 2 meals as in Hitugi: 150.000IDR for 2 people, although the host at the beginning quoted 250.000IDR. As you can see, it’s always worth haggling with the locals 🙂
DAY 3: YOGOSEM – YUARIMA – HITUGI
The 3rd day of trekking was already quite pleasant as most of the time we were walking downhill, so the way back to Hitugi took us only 4 hours (instead of 5h). We set off as usual early in the morning (7 o’clock), so we reached Hitugi at 11:00. We were having almost the whole day ahead to enjoy this place, on the first day there was no time for that. As soon as we came to the village a group of children playing in front of the school ran in our direction, we showed them some pictures from trekking and then we were happy to be guided by them to one of campungs (Indonesian word)/ camps located on the hills just above Hitugi. The below photo was taken with our little ‘’guide’’ 🙂 :
DAY 4: HITUGI – KURIMA – WAMENA
From Hitugi we set off to Kurima again at 7 in the morning just after breakfast. This time we said goodbye for good to the friendly folks from the village. As the trek back was easier (most of the time we were going downhill), we reached Kurima in 2 hours! We could actually have stayed in Kurima for the last night instead of staying another night in Hitugi but we had got completely hypnotized by the view around the village so the decision had been obvious for both of us 🙂
The views on the way back to Kurima:
As you have probably noticed, it’s plausible to squeeze the above trekking in 3 days. If you take a break in Hitugi after a 4-hour trek from Yogosem, about an hour later 12am-1pm you can move in the direction of Kurima, which you should reach at 3pm and you will probably manage to catch one of motorcyclists to give you a ride to the torrent river after which you will reach the place where the first minibus can be taken and later you can take the next one going to Wamena Kota (‘kota’ means ‘city’ in Indonesian language) directly to the market. Why are we against this possibility? Spending a night in Wamena is 3 times expensive than doing it in e.g. Kurima. The tourists are sent to hotels even when asking about cheap accommodation. We tried to find out whether we could sleep in a church, or at someone’s house, but unfortunately all the locals, without exceptions, directed us to the nearest hotels :/ So one night in Wamena cost us the same as 3 nights with full board in the Baliem Valley .. we paid about 35EUR per night (breakfast in form of a bufet was included in the price) in the Baliem Pilamo Hotel, which was located near the airport. Many groups of tourists are sent very often to this hotel before going on an organized trekking with an English speaking guide and that’s where we saw myriads of photos from the package tours.
The villages in the pictures looked like arranged places with souvenir shops (resembling a long neck women Karen village in Chiang Rai in northern Thailand, about which we wrote quite a lot in our post about Chiang Rai). Seeing these pictures we were glad we hadn’t gone to such villages; our experience was real, it was great to spend time with the local people who didn’t dress up to look like savage people to meet white tourists’ expectations and draw money from them at the same time.
On the last day in Hitugi we found some headbands with feathers in the hut belonging to our hosts and we grabbed them just to take some pictures with them 🙂
You have to take into account that nowadays the local people from the villages mostly wear normal clothes, they live without electricity and hot water, use water from the stream, and eat in a ‘kitchen’ with the floor covered with hay and cook in a big casserole set on the fire, but dress quite normally. Of course it’s different when there is a celebration in a village, then you will see them wearing some traditional ‘clothes’. To see incredibly wild tribes, such as people living in the trees, who are considered to be the weirdest in West Papua, you’d have to go with a guide, who would charge you even 80 million IDR/6.000USD for a 2-3 week excursion! (We got this information from our host in the homestay in Waena/near Jayapura). If you want to stay longer in West Papua you can also hike further than Yogosem deeper into the wilderness, where you could possibly meet a Yalimo tribe, allegedly one of the most interesting tribes. Near Wamena there are also other possibilities for trekking, and it’s amazing how this place really is reach in culture and scenic views and has a mass of options to offer to those who love being close to nature and appreciate the uniqueness of the normal local life in West Papua:)
Inviting you also to read our next post (available soon!) about the local population of West Papua, conspicuous cultural differences, some nice and not so nice memories that we are left with after our visit to the most colourful island of Indonesia 🙂