It’s not the most common place to spend your holiday, but certainly interesting! And it is also a journey back in time, no mere ’50s’ like Cuba (we also like to go there, but that aside), but prehistoric. The Wamena valley in Papua, Indonesia, is in many ways still nicely primitive. That is not surprising because this valley made first contact with the outside world in 1938.
Previously, everyone walked in his bare ass, nowadays only the older men. Well completely bare ass is exaggerated, that’s inappropriate. The old men proudly wear a penis sheath. It looks impressive such a giant extension of your manhood. We found the way the older man dress at least astonishing partly because the Wamena valley is climate technically not the best place to run around naked. It may lie near the equator, but the valley is at a fresh 1800 meter altitude and most villages lie above 2000 meter.
The penis sheath
The youth dress themselves in Western clothing and the older men with only the penis sheath lubricate themselves with pork fat to keep warm. Best display remains the combination of old and new, no pants but a warm vest, best known as a Donald Duck costume. Besides the interesting manner the locals dress, you can also enjoy beautiful multi-day hikes. You can easily hike in the valley without a guide. Some of the youth speaks English but communicating is difficult. Most locals will offer you some shelter and supper when the sun sets. It’s possible, as far as we experienced, to arrange accommodation in all villages we passed. For a small fee they provide all you need. If you want to impress your host bring some rice from Wamena town and offer this as an evening meal for the family; they will be happy to share this with you. Crucial are cigarettes; everybody – no exceptions – smokes. Cigarettes are expected when you: ask the way, don’t ask the way, want to be friendly, have a conversation, don’t want a conversation, share a meal or take a photo. One package won’t be enough, take at least one for every day you are hiking.
Instant noodle, a Papuan haute cuisine
What people find delicious differs from place to place across the world. We Dutchies, like many people in northern Europe, like it a bit savourless. In India and Mexico your plate will be spicy. Everything tastes good in Italy and in Papua all food is prepared in such a way that it’s barely edible. Papuans like it salty; in every meal they drop a spoon of salt, not a silly teaspoon but a proper big spoon. In an effort to disguise the salty taste or to give your supper some extra flavour – who knows – sugar is added. This is the second threat that will pollute all your meals. Many spoons of this ‘seasoning’ are thrown in the cooking pot and stirred through the green-spinach-like-leaves what soon will be your supper.
The instant noodle, not exactly haute cuisine, has made its introduction in the Wamena Valley and is gaining popularity. This snack is in our opinion very salty and back home not considered edible. Papuans have a different opinion; their two favourite ‘seasonings’ make it almost revolting. But despite all horrors there is one item they prepare as it should be: the sweet potato. It’s cooked in the coals of the fire and taste excellent!
Doing your homework
The people in and around Wamena are friendly, often curious why we are walking through their village and have a good sense of humour, and like the Dutch, Papuans are direct in their way of speaking. We met one man who could speak English well enough to ask why we didn’t have any children and support Hugo to take his task in the reproduction more serious, as he was of the same age and had already 4 children. The whole family was eager to give their opinion and have a good laugh, so Hugo promised he would do his homework.
Breastfeeding your piglet
The hitch back to Wamena was one of the most noteworthy moments we had. Sitting tightly sandwiched in the back of the bus Elise had a young woman with a piglet in her woven bag next to her. Who probably – judging from the sounds – was breastfeeding the piglets, as this is common in this part of the world. Hugo on the other side had a mother with a sweaty child. The piglet was laying half on Elise, the child busy to get Hugo’s shirt soaked. Only 50 minutes later the bus was finally full, including one boy on top of the roof and four men dressed in army clothes. We were ready for the journey back on the bumpy road. The first 10 minutes where good fun, an hour later we where numb. But we liked it!
In Papua travelling is really an adventure, almost no other tourist go there. It feels like you are on the edge of the earth. We definitely go back one day, to explore more!!
Hugo with local friends