by Rob D'Eon
July 2018
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Trekking in the Baliem Valley: Accomodation

Once you leave Wamena, there is nothing resembling a hotel or guesthouse or formalized accommodation (at least along our route). You will stay in peoples’ houses. Now, when I say “house”, there are two options: (1) a thing called a “honai”, and (2) a small wooden house.

Honai - traditional house
A honai is the traditional dwelling that is basically a large grass hut with a dirt floor and a fire in the middle of it. They make up the majority of what you will see in most villages. DO NOT STAY/SLEEP IN A HONAI. More on that to follow.

The second thing you will notice, is that some people have a rectangular wooden house with windows, door, and a roof, i.e., a somewhat normal western house. STAY IN ONE OF THESE. The usual situation we found, was that people with a wooden house always also had a honai immediately beside their wooden house. The honai is used for cooking, socializing, and is clearly the center of family life. The wooden house is basically a few rooms with little to no furniture, that is used almost exclusively for sleeping. i.e., it’s their bedrooms. But: no hot water, showers, plumbing, electricity. It’s a wooden box with windows and a door.

So that’s key. A honai is basically a smoke house. There is no ventilation. Really, no chimney, no hole in the roof, no windows, nothing. Recall the “fire in the middle thing” that is used for cooking. We were invited in, as you will be, and we lasted less than 10 mins and had to get out. The smoke was tearing our eyes, and breathing was difficult. It’s incredible that they traditionally (and still do) sleep in them. Hence the advice not to sleep in one of them. However, obviously you should experience the inside of a honai and eat sweet potatoes and chat with your host family. It’s all part of the fun J.

Wooden house - your choice
For sleeping however, the best basic strategy was, upon arriving at your destination village, look for the nicest wooden house in the village. Find the owner and ask for a room (kamar tidor). They will simply clear out their clothes and personal effects, and give you the room they, or one of their family members, usually sleeps in. You will get a room with little to no furniture, a wooden floor, and maybe a sketchy thin mattress with used bedding. All good, except for the smelly mattress and used bedding J We brought sleeping mats and sleeping bags, and used them every time (i.e., we just pushed aside whatever was there).

Price: we paid 100,000 Rp (7 USD) per person every night except one, where the lady in charge refused to go lower than 150,000 Rp (10 USD). No idea why, but perhaps she has been to Harvard Business School and knew damn well we had no choice (it was the only wooden house in the village; next village hours away). All good though. The sweet potatoes were exceptionally tasty J.

Oh, key point here. There is no electricity in the villages. Therefore, nothing that runs on electricity other than the odd tiny solar light in some houses. Speaking of light, after dark, (i.e., after 6 pm), it’s well, dark. No lights anywhere. They literally have no lights. It’s like camping. So bring yer headlamps, and extra batteries.

Hot tips:

·       As mentioned above, go to the nicest wooden house in the village, and ask for a room (kamar tidor). Be sure to ensure that they will provide hot water. Just for fun, ask them to provide “ubi” (sweet potatoes). Really, if you don’t eat one a day, you really haven’t been there. J

·       Bring your own sleeping bag (rated to 0oC is fine), unless you like dingy used blankets

·       Bring a sleeping pad, unless you are OK with dingy used mattresses

·       Bring a headlamp and extra batteries to last you. You will use it from 6 pm till you go to sleep every night.

A word on camping: we didn’t carry a tent, so didn’t camp. But, if you’re a purist, and prefer tenting/camping, and don’t mind the extra weight in your pack, you could. In my opinion, it would be entirely possible to tent/camp – either on your own out in the wilds, or beside someone’s house in a village. In between villages is basically no-man’s land/wilderness, so I really can’t imagine anyone caring, or even knowing about you pitching a tent. Safety would not be an issue in my opinion (really, what’s a guy in a penis gourd going to do to you? J). In the villages, there is lots of green space to throw up a tent – you could negotiate a small fee, which would probably include hot water. If that’s yer thing, go for it!
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