A guide to independent trekking in the Baliem valley

Before starting, I’d like to express my gratitude to the authors of the following articles or posts online that helped me to prepare my trip :

AN INTRODUCTION TO BALIEM VALLEY

Baliem Valley is an isolated area nested in the mountains of Papua province. As of 2017, it is still only reachable by plane.

A project dubbed “trans-papua road” is currently ongoing and should be completed next year. When completed, Wamena should be connected to Mamugu in the South and able to get supply by the road.

The valley gets its name from the Baliem river that flows through it. It’s about 100km long and 20km large.

The Baliem river viewed on the road from Kurima to Hitugi

The valley is home to numerous small villages inhabited by people from different close ethnical groups. The most famous are Dani, Yali, Lani but some other can be found in more secluded area like the Mek.

A Dani village on the road from Hitugi to Yogosem

A large part of the population in and around Wamena stems from other part of Indonesia. They are physically very different from indigenous Papua people.

ABOUT AUTHENTICITY

I recommend you to read the first paragraph of this article on East-Indonesia. I’m gonna just quote the last sentence but go read the rest (it’s only a couple of lines) :

So don’t dream of discovering untouched primitives, just come here to enjoy the splendid scenery, the remoteness, and the real, present-day culture, and you are likely to return home with lasting memories

User zachleigh on Lonely Planet Forum had also some great words (again go read the full last paragraph of his post) :

Walk around by yourself and talk to the people and you will find an authentic culture. Come here for a few days looking for cannibals and you will probably leave disappointed.

People of Peliam village – Most of the people now wear western clothes

There is a festival every year in July where villagers will put on war paints and mock fights. If you want to bring back shots of people naked, painted and with bones in the nose, it’s your best chance. You can expect something like this.

For special official guests, they might set up a welcoming ceremony with some traditional outfit. I saw those guys at Wamena airport, they were waiting for a newly appointed official in the governor office.

Welcoming ceremony for a government offical. The girl on the left is carrying a traditional hat with bird feathers

SURVIVAL KIT

FOOD AND ACCOMMODATION WHEN YOU ARRIVE IN A VILLAGE

For food you have 3 options :

  • Bring your own from Wamena (not necessary)
  • Buy it on the way in the small shops (ask for kios) or directly to the villagers (for ubi [yam] or instance). I advise that you always keep enough food for one day in your bag (instant noodles, ubi or rice) in case you cannot find food in a particular village.
  • Ask the villagers to cook for you (it’s possible most of the time but don’t ask for it at 8pm !).
A very simple shop ! Noodles, rice and cabbage available. A common sight in smaller village.

Immediately after you arrive in the village you intend to spend the night at, ask around about where you can stay. In my case they always had a room somewhere for guests. Beware, mattress and blankets are not provided most of the time !

Ask your hosts what are your options to eat. They will tell you if they can provide you with a meal or not. If not inquire if it’s possible to buy food in the village and then where to cook it.

I basically ate the following every day :

  • Biscuits I bought or cooked ubi for the previous day in the morning
  • Cooked ubi at lunch
  • Rice with cooked ubi leaves and noodles at night

Some prices as of July 2017:

  • 1kg of rice : 4,000Rp
  • One pack of instant noodles : 5’000-8’000Rp
  • Passion fruits : 5’000Rp for 10 pieces
  • Sardin and tomato can : 20’000Rp

BAKAR BATU

Before the introduction of cooking ware, the traditional cooking method was baking stones. You dig a hole in the ground and fill it with stones. Then you make a fire over the stones to heat up the stones. When all the wood has turn into ashes you can build a naturel oven over the hot stones.

Check the website of this French travel agency to see pictures of the whole process.

I have never seen anyone cooking like this during my stay. I guess they now do it only for paying tourists or on special occasions.

WHAT ABOUT THE WATER ?

You can drink from springs and streams. There are many on your way. Carrying 1,5L of water per person is more than enough.

WHAT TO BRING ?

  • A empty bottle or gourd to carry water
  • A sleeping bag for the night (I had one that is not recommended below 10°C and I was fine even the night I spend outside next to the fire).
  • Money to pay for food and accommodation (take more than necessary just in case, in Angguruk I got told about a guy who had to beg for food because he waited for the plane for days and was out of cash).
  • Flashlight for the night
  • Something to protect your bag and yourself if it rains
  • Small gifts for villagers : cigarettes, lighters, tea, coffee, blowing balloons for kids …

A couple of stuff I wish I brought :

  • Shoes to walk in the mud ! (I ruined my feet doing the trek with New Balance sneakers)
  • A sleeping mattress
  • Seasoning for food (soy sauce, salt …)

ABOUT THE GUIDES

HIRING A GUIDE OR NOT ?

It’s gonna depend on :

  • Your level in Indonesian language
  • How far you intend to go

If you don’t want to go too far (like Kiroma or Wesegalep in the South), then you can fin your own way alone provided that you know how to ask in Indonesian :

  • What’s the direction of this
  • Where can I sleep and the price for the accomodation
  • Can someone cook for me ? Where can I cook ?

In case you don’t know, it shall take you about 1 hour to learn.

But if your speaking abilities are that limited, you won’t be able to have any conversation with the local villagers. Hence I still advise that you hire an English speaking guide.

If you want to go further away, then a guide is mandatory because there is no way you find the way by yourself. You have to go through forest and rivers. It doesn’t have to be a professional, any villager can do it.

There are some really nasty reports online about scam or theft so it’s better to be cautious when choosing your guide. Read the part Tourist Trap on East-Indonesia.

My guide that I hired from Hitugi to Angguruk

HOW MUCH TO PAY FOR THE GUIDE ?

First of all let me tell you that a daily rate of 100-150$ per person that you can get often quoted is insane.

Friends of mine made a loop Kurima > Kilise >Kuligima > Wesagelep > Wusurem > Ugem > Kurima. It costed them 12M for 4 people and 6 days with an English speaking guide.

Otherwise, if you organise everything by yourself it should cost you the following :

  • Accommodation : 100,000Rp per night/per person (I was alone so I don’t if you can have a discount for a group)
  • Food : no more than 50,000Rp per day
  • Guide : 150-200,000Rp per day

Be very clear with your guide about the following point :

  • Insist to pay by yourself food and accommodation
  • Where and when do you intend to leave him

ITINERARY

NORTH OR SOUTH ?

Road network is much more developed in the Northern part of Baliem valley, as a consequence I understand this area is less isolated.

It doesn’t mean it’s less interesting. Just going a few hours to Aikima I could noticed significant differences with the Southern villages I just visited the day before.

According to East-Indonesia, the trekking is more rugged in the South-East highland. So I decided to go for it.

Based on my itinerary, some friends’ and the map of the area I got from AMA at Wamena airport, I made an approximative map of the Southern area :

Blue dots should be correct (GPS coordinates), green are places in the nature, orange are approximative

The Japanese guy running Papua.com Internet cafe sells a approximative maps of the area (North and South) for 7,000Rp.

CHOOSE YOUR TREKKING ITINERARY

Please keep in mind that my experience is limited to the South-East part of the valley. I only got as far as Aikima, North of Wamena.

  • You can take public transport to reach the cities of Tiom or Karubaga North-West of Wamena and then go on trek in the Lani villages.
  • You can trek in the Dani villages North of Wamena (including the one where they keep mummy like Sampaima or Wo’ogi
  • You can go trekking in the Dani villages South-East of Wamena (to Kiroma or Wesegalep for instance)
  • You can trek further off Dani villages into Yali territory (like Angguruk or Kosarek) or even further to Mek or Eipomek.

SUGGESTED ITINERARIES

Based on my experience in the South, I can suggest a couple of itinerary. There are of course many others options and no one know better than the locals.

I advise you to take into consideration what I call the ‘Papua factor’ every time you discuss with someone about the time necessary to go to some place.

If someone tells you you need 5 hours to go from point A to point B, always also ask how long they need to cover a distance you covered by yourself. By doing so you can approximate how fast this person walks compared to yourself and so know the real time you need to cover distance A-B.

South Baliem Trekking Map – Blue dots should be ok, orange are approximative, green are not villages but places in the moutains

MY ITINERARY : WAMENA TO ANGGURUK (ONE WAY)

This I what I did in June 2017. I posted a comprehensive report in this article.

Day 1 : from Kurima to Hitugi (2h50 walking).

Day 2 : from Hitugi to Yogosem (3h40 walking)

Day 3 : from Yogosem to Wonggul (7h20 walking)

Day 4 : from Wonggul to Peliam (9h50 walking)

Day 5 : from Peliam to Angguruk (7h45 walking)

Day 6 : AMA plane from Angguruk to Wamena (30 minutes).

My original plan was to go back to Wamena walking from Angguruk to Ninia, Soba and so on …

But I was sick of walking in the mud and sleeping on the floor. There was a flight leaving on Day 6 otherwise I would have to wait for another 3 days so I decided to go back to Wamena.

With proper gear I guess I would have had continued either to Kosarek either back to Wamena as planned.

A guide is mandatory from Kiroma to Angguruk.

We walked at a good pace and didn’t take much rest.

A MORE RELAXED 6 DAYS ITINERARY : WAMENA-WESEGALEP LOOP

I got this report from friends who did this with a guide. Given the trail is well worn you can do it by yourself provided that you have a basic level in Indonesian as explained above.

I think they took it easier than me because I covered the Kurima – Ugem distance in less than 2 hours.

Day 1 : Sogokmo (before Kurima) – Kurima – Kilise (2h30 walking).

Day 2 : Kilise – Kuligima (3h walking)

Day 3 : Kuligima – Wesegalep (4h30 walking)

Day 4 : Wesegalep – Wuserem (4h walking)

Day 5 : Wuserem – Ugem (7h walking)

Day 6 : Ugem – Kurima (2h30 walking)

CHARTERING A PLANE

All Missionary Airlines operate flights to many villages in the valley. Their office is at the very end of the airport.

I found easily a plane back from Angguruk (the next day of my arrival). According to the guy there, there is a flight everyday from Monday to Friday. But at Wamena they told me the schedule is more irregular. Planes bringing cargo simply pick up passengers on their way back. The ticket costs 600,000Rp per passengers, seat is not guaranteed.

Flights from Kosarek are much more scarce for instance.

Prices for charter flights are as following (for 9 passengers or 800kg of cargo), one way :

  • Wamena – Angguruk or Pronggoli : 14’000’000Rp
  • Wamena – Kosarek or Walma : 16’000’000Rp
  • Wamena – Nalca : 22’000’000Rp

Getting a seat on a flight leaving from Wamena is very difficult because flight usually leave with cargo and come back with passengers. Hence the guy chartering the flight is going to load up as much cargo as possible, leaving no seat for eventual passenger. There is no phone signal in the villages, the only way of communication is radio.

So it’s better to walk first and then fly, the problem is that you don’t know exactly how long you are going to wait for the return flight. Make sure you have enough cash with you.

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