When I mentioned I was going to Papua, it was met with blank stares or a query of Papua New Guinea. Alas, Papua and Papua New Guinea are not the same, although they do exist side by side on the same island of New Guinea. Located just North of Australia, New Guinea is a large island with Papua New Guinea located on the East and Papua on the West. Although Papua New Guinea is an independent country, Papua belongs to the country of Indonesia and is a hived-off province to the far East of Indonesia's spread. The attractions of Papua are primarily natural. It's a wild place with very little infrastructure and could easily be considered one of the most remote places on Earth!
My long journey half way around the world started with a flight to Istanbul, onto Jakarta and finally into tiny Jayapura, Papua. I arrived into the tiny airport and met my guide. Although I prefer independent travel, a guide is pretty much required in the wilds of Papua, at least for what I came to do. I was immediately taken to my hotel to clean up and have a rest. Bright and early the following morning I headed back to the airport for the short internal flight to Dekai. I spent a night there before heading down to the Brazza River for a 9 hour journey in a dug out canoe. A long motor was mounted on the back and gave us more power than your average dug out. Seeing life along the Brazza was interesting as you realize how remote these villages are. Around mid day we stopped at one to have lunch. Pretty much every meal in Papua was a variation of the same thing; rice, fish or chicken and a broth poured over the entire dish. All meals were delicious. We walked around the tiny village as our meal was being prepared. I thought it was funny that even in such a ramshackle place with the most basic of accommodation, they still had a big TV for all to watch. We ate our lunch and continued down the Brazza. We had to stop to refuel on numerous occasions and I cringed as I watched the process. The two porters would get out and take the large container of fuel and pour it into the engine all the while puffing away on their cigarettes! No safety precautions here! We eventually made our way to the tiny village of Mabul where we docked just as the sun was going down. We walked a short distance to the village and met the family we would be staying with. It was a wooden house on stilts with, actually, many families living in it. Eighteen people in all, including children, shared this humble abode. The four of us made twenty-two! As the guest I was given a small room to myself. My guide had brought a mosquito net and hung it from large nails crudely pounded into the four walls. I had a sleeping bag on the floor as there was no bed. After dropping my bag I walked around the small village and eventually came back for dinner. My guide was preparing the meal and one of the porters started cooking it on the fire inside the hut. After dinner I retreated to my room and in the oppressive heat spent the night sweating profusely on top of the sleeping bag.
Bright and early I was up and as I packed up my stuff the guide made breakfast. A short time later we were ready to start our adventure; a trek through the rainforest to visit the Korowai and Kombai tribes! We walked through the village and the dirt road ended as soon as it hit the rainforest. It looked like a road leading to nowhere! My posse included a guide and two porters. All shared cooking responsibilities. I was forewarned to wear rubber boats as the rainforest could get pretty muddy... really? On my first step into the rainforest I stepped into what I thought was a small puddle, but turned out to be a huge hole. Down I went into the hole with my leg all the way to the knee. Simultaneously my sunglasses went flying off my head into another hole. The porters quickly lifted me out, but the wet, muddy leg remained the rest of the day. One kind porter fished around in the muck looking for my sunglasses and finally retrieved the muddy pair. From that point on I was more careful where I walked and tried to follow my guides footsteps exactly! I think someone should have reclassified this trip as "extreme" instead of "moderate" as no one told me I would be shimmying across dead tree logs over ragging torrents of water! I huffed and puffed trying to keep up with the trio who were practically running through the jungle barefoot! I, in my rubber boots and not accustom to the extreme heat and humidity, was dying trying to keep up! A few hours in we finally came to the reason I wanted to come to Papua, to see the tree house dwellings of the Korowai and Kombai tribes! The Korowai and Kombai build their houses high up in the canopy of the rainforest often reaching sixty-five feet! Not only does it keep them away from insects, but also provides protection from any animals such as wild boar. The first treehouse was magnificent. Climbing up the tiny "steps", which were simply notches out of a log, was a challenge. I was once again thankful that I'm not afraid of heights! We met the family who lived in the treehouse; a man with his four wives and a few children. We then settled down for lunch. I watched as the porter went down to the small river to gather water for our meal. It was brown and murky! Although it was boiled for a long time, I still tried not to think about it once I was eating the mix. We shared with the family and also offered them useful items as a thank you for letting us stay. The evening came and I inched up the tiny "ladder" hanging on for dear life! My area was sectioned off by a curtain on one end of the treehouse. In spite of the accommodation, I slept rather well. We rose early the next morning and after breakfast continued on our way through more thick rainforest onto the next tree house. We stayed in many tree houses over the week we were trekking. All were fascinating. It's hard to believe people live in such a remote location with very little contact with the outside world. After seven days I was ready to return to civilization, Mabul village, anyway. It was the same village we had started at and the tiny room with mosquito netting and sleeping bag on the floor looked inviting and positively palatial by comparison to where I had been sleeping! Another night there and it was back to the canoe for the long ride up the Brazza back to Dekai.
After Dekai, I decided to head to another area of Papua called Wamena. Located in the Baliem Valley, Wamena is the most popular destination in Papua and the most accessible place in the interior. The valley is surrounded by high mountains on all sides. Amid the spectacular scenery the majority of the Dani people who live there, still live close to nature living in villages composed of circular thatched huts. I found a man with a motorbike to take me out to one of the villages just outside the town. On our way we approached a man walking on the side of the road who appeared to be buck naked except for a beanie hat! As we slowly passed I could see he wasn't naked entirely, but instead was only wearing a penis gourd. Penis gourds, made from dried-out gourds, are actually a penis sheath traditionally worn by native males in the Wamena area. Besides the gourd and a hat, all this man wore was a smile! I had the driver pull over and asked if I could take a picture. He smiled big and proudly posed! We spotted several other men wearing the traditional gourds on our way to the small village.
Once we arrived we checked out the area. Living quarters are split with the men and women living in separate huts. They all happily posed for pictures with all the men in penis gourds and the women in nothing by grass skirts. We eventually headed back to Wamena, along the way stopping at a few of the hanging bridges in the area.
My journey finished with a flight back to Jayapura and the long flights home via Jakarta, Abu Dhabi and finally onto Frankfurt. Papua is one remote place and although the rainforest is a formidable challenge (and a harrowing experience), it was totally worth the trip and all there was to see!