From what we gathered, the first language of the locals in the Baliem Valley is “Bahasa Wamena”, which translates to “Wamena language” (i.e., that’s what they told us). Given there are hundreds if not thousands of languages in Indonesia, and places like Papua where different villages speak different languages, that is entirely possible.
However, the obvious and most useful language for us foreigners in the Baliem Valley is “Bahasa Indonesia”, which translates to, you guessed it, “Indonesia Language”, AKA Indonesian. Virtually everyone speaks Indonesian, except for, in our experience, the very young and the very old (you guessed it again: neither has been to school, where Indonesian is taught). All kids of school age and middle-aged adults we met spoke fluent Indonesian. English (or any other language for that matter) will get you nowhere and is basically useless. It’s Bahasa Wamena or Bahasa Indonesia. Your choice J
Because we have been in Indonesia for a couple of years, we speak basic Indonesian. That was invaluable. If you speak Indonesian, even a bit, you will use every word you know, and be way ahead of the game. So I guess that’s the advice: learn as much Indonesian as you can, and/or bring an Indonesian phrase book/dictionary. You will definitely use it.OK, question for you non-Indonesian-speakers wanting to do a self-guided trip: Can we do an unguided trip without speaking Indonesian? In my opinion, sure, why not. We have been to plenty of countries where we didn’t speak a word of the language, and managed just fine. It’s a combination of facial expression and charades, then pointing to the thing you want (we’ve all been there, you know what I mean). So, don’t let the language thing keep you from doing an unguided trip. The people are wonderful, and will definitely help you, whatever language you speak.
· If you don’t speak Indonesian, definitely bring a phrase book and/or dictionary. You’ll use it!