Jayapura - Khalkhote - Sentani Lake - Doyo Lama - Megalithic Tutari Site - Wamena - Walisi - Baliem Valley Festival - Akima - Yetni - Sugokmo - Kurima - Seinma - Jayapura
We took a flight from Denpasar (Bali) to Jayapura.
We landed in Jayapura in the morning. Since we had a flight early in the morning the next day, we decided to stay close to the airport. Unfortunately, it was impossible to find a proper hotel in advance. We decided to walk around with luggage and get something on the spot. After all, how big this town can be? And indeed, we found many "hotels" adjacent to the airport but nothing that wouldn't pose a health risk.
Having no other choice, we took a taxi to Star Waena hotel, that we knew would be clean and with AC. The reception people were really friendly - they allowed us to check in early and found for us a car with a driver.
First, we went to Jayapura Police Station to get the permits for Wamena. It was an adventure for the whole new article - the police needed the xerocopy of our passports (the pages with photos + visas), which was, of course, impossible to get at their station. And since it was Sunday, it took us some time to find a place with a xerocopy machine. Eventually, we made the copies in some big hotel at the other end of the world. But at least they issue the permits right away. Good advice: make the copies in advance and bring them with you to Indonesia.
After the fuss with the permits had been already finished, we went to Jayapura City Hill. It is the hill with the Hollywood-styled "Jayapura City" neon letters. You can walk there (free) or go by car (you'll have to pay some small car parking fee). On the very top, there's a little cafe with a panoramic view. The whole place is a bit shabby, but the view rewards everything - truly spectacular. Don't miss it.
From the hill, we went to one of the fishing villages with houses on stilts, visible from the top.
Next was Khalkhote, a place where each year the Lake Sentani Festival takes place. This festival is amazing: you can witness a wide range of cultural attractions presented by different tribes living around Lake Sentani, performed both on land and on the lake (on boats). It is the second most popular festival in West Papua, after Baliem Valley Festival. Unfortunately, it happens at another time than Baliem Festival, so we had no chance of seeing it. But next time we will come here especially for this reason.
In Khalkhote, we rented a boat which took us to one of the villages on stilts, to see how life on the middle of a lake can look like. It was fantastic; we enjoyed both - the ride with a beautiful lake view and a visit to the village.
From Khalkhote we went to Doyo Lama, where we found a perfect spot for watching the sunset over Lake Sentani. Doyo Lama has another secret besides the panoramic view hill: Megalithic Tutari Site, located maybe 1,5 km away. It is also a hill, but instead of a lake view, it offers the company of ancient megaliths and petroglyphs. The entrance to this historic site is near the tarmac. A massive gate with a name of the place won't let you miss it.
We also planned to visit Love Lake (a small, heart-shaped lake, supposedly very charming), but the permit stuff took us too long to make it happen. It was already dark when we came back to the hotel.
It was still dark when we took a taxi to the airport. The flight was 20 minutes late (it happens A LOT in Papua). But at least it wasn't canceled. It was freezing at the airport, so have some warm jacket.
We heard it's best to take the first flight possible as there's only one "shuttle" plane flying to Wamena back and forth. And because of the geographical location of Wamena, there is a high probability of rains and fogs during the day.
After we landed, we were approached by some weird old man who offered to find us a hotel. Normally we wouldn't trust him, but he was allowed to enter the passenger arrival hall, so we thought he must have been well known among the locals. We tried to book a hotel from home as we heard that during the festival it is extremely hard to find a vacant room in Wamena. We tried many times to contact several hotels via e-mail or social profiles, with no effect. Some people we met in Wamena told us they had the same experience. So maybe it's better to call a hotel instead sending e-mails.
Anyway, we decided to trust the guy, and soon three of us hired the cycle rickshaws from the airport. It took him about an hour and three failed attempts to finally find a room (the guy obviously didn't believe in phone calls). But we would never get the hotel without him (yes, they are all full!), so can't complain.If you find yourself in the same situation, take a rickshaw from the airport to Rannu Jaya II hotel (it takes about 10 minutes). You can also walk there (it's maybe 500 meters from the very spot the planes land), but since it's a hidden side alley and you'd have to circle the airport fence to find it, it's better to take a rickshaw. There are several other hotels on this tiny little street, so if there are no vacancies in Rannu Jaya, you can try your luck next door.
After breakfast, we took ojec (a motorcycle taxi) to Walisi, a small village a few kilometers from Wamena, where the Baliem Valley Festival took place (a 20-minute ride). In previous years it took place in various other villages, so make sure to ask at the hotel.
The festival is U-N-B-E-L-I-E-V-A-B-L-E. It's one of the most wonderful spectacles we've ever witnessed, right next to the carnival in Rio (in many aspects it was even better). It's worth every penny you would have to pay, so imagine our surprise when we learned it was for free. No entrance fee!It was organized on some large plain, surrounded by beautiful mountains. The whole entourage was spectacular by itself, and when you added thousands of Papuan people dressed in national costumes (if you can call koteka a national costume...), it was simply breathtaking. Awesome. Wonderful. Amazing. So stunning, that we envy ourselves for being there.The festival is a subject for the whole new article (or ten), so we put more details here: Baliem Valley Festival.
The festival usually lasts for three days. It was first of them. It normally ends around 4 pm, so to avoid the crowds (the festival gathered tens of thousands of people, both participants, and observers) we left the spot at 3 pm. We planned to walk to Wamena (the walk takes about 1,5 hour and is completely safe with all the people around), but it started to rain. We were not able to catch any ojec, as so many people began to leave at the same time. We asked the traffic police for help - and they stopped two motor-cycles for us.
Our advice for those who decide to walk to Wamena: on your left, you'll see the river. At some point, there will be a hanging bridge over the river - cross it and follow the people through the cemetery, until you reach the town. The distance is the same, but this way you'll avoid the cars and motor-bikes on the main road (which is very narrow and thus, with all the traffic, quite dangerous).
In the hotel, we met another couple from Europe. Together we decided to hire a car to Akima, to see a mummy. There are several villages near Wamena where the mummies of ancestors (some even supposedly over 200-years-old) are kept. The mummies are preserved by smoke and showed to the visitors who are willing to pay a fee. The fee is big (about 120 000 IDR) and paid per person. They don't negotiate the price. If you don't want to pay, you don't get to see a mummy. If you are a group of people, only those who pay can see a mummy, and the rest will be waiting outside the hut. If everyone pays, the mummy will be carried outside. Period.
From Akima, the driver took us to Walisi. On the way, we passed the groups of people getting ready for the festival. We stopped several times to take photos (win-win transactions, as the locals were also taking photos with us with their cell phones).
Again, we spent almost the whole day at the festival, enjoying every single second of it.
In the evening we decided to have dinner in Baliem Hotel. It is said to be the most luxurious hotel in Wamena, and since we craved for the Western junk food, we thought it could be a good venue to get some.
For those who would get the same idea: they have fries for 50 000 IDR, and you have to wait for them an hour! You'd better think twice and stay with rice. Or get something they call pizza in the cafe near the bakery (ask for the bakery, people will know).
in 5 days
In the morning, we went to the central market near the main road. We wanted to do the trekking, and we decided to do it in the southern valley.
There are bemo (shared taxi) minibusses leaving for Yetni. You might pay 25 000 IDR for a ticket or hire the whole bemo for 300 000 IDR. They say the bemos go to Yetni, but in fact, they stop in Sugokmo (Sogogmo), right before the broken bridge. You have to cross the bridge on foot and take another bemo to actual Yetni (about 5 kilometers more).
From Yetni go to Kurima (Koruma) (you have to cross the river again). From Kurima to Seinma (Senma), taking the only road available and then the huge hanging bridge (you can't get lost).
After crossing the hanging bridge, you'll find yourself near a church. From that point you have two options: take the road to the left for a shorter trek or a path up the hill for a longer one. Either way, pay attention to the river - trek alongside and have it on your left. And walk until you reach another hanging bridge. When you cross it, go straight until you find yourself on the tarmac leading back to Sugokmo (the broken bridge), where the bemos to Wamena will be waiting.
The whole trekking (from Sugokmo to Sugokmo) takes about 4 hours and leads through the amazing scenery. You will find more details in our article here: Wamena trekking.
One more thing: no permits were wanted from us at any point during the trek.
We left the hotel at 4:50 am and walked to the airport (10 minutes). The check-in started at 5:10 and we were the first ones, so we were able to pick the seats. If you can, choose the last row (or the one before last) on the right side - you'll have a beautiful view of the Baliem Valley and Lake Sentani.
We went through the security to the departure lounge only to learn that the flight was 2 hours late due to the dense fog. We had to wait for it in freezing cold.
In Jayapura, we planned to rent a car with a driver and go to Love Lake, which we missed to see on the first day.
Unfortunately, in addition to being a few hours late from Wamena, we learned that our luggage did not fly with us - the plane was too heavy for the weather conditions, and the pilot refused to take the passengers' bags due to the safety reasons. They were to come another few hours later, with a cargo flight.
Many passengers had their onward flights the same day, and they were furious. Our own flight to Makassar (Sulawesi) was in the afternoon and planning our itinerary we thought we had plenty of time. Oh, how wrong we were! We spent the next few hours filling in the myriad forms for the airlines to deliver the bags to Makassar. And without both - the baggage and hope to ever see it again, we flew to Sulawesi.
And even the fact that after 5 hours of waiting at the airport in Makassar we finally got our luggage back doesn't change our advice for you: NEVER EVER BOOK YOUR ONWARD FLIGHT FROM JAYAPURA THE SAME DAY YOU COME BACK FROM WAMENA.
We checked it - the delays like ours happen a lot.
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