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Transport plane to the Baliem Valley

Papua Highlands

Just after sunrise the plane circled over a vast expanse of flat, pale-green forest, then banked over a shantytown of rusty tin roofs to land in Timika. We stepped off the plane to stretch our legs. Watching through the chain link fence was a group of Papuans with frizzy hair, black skin and broad noses. Had we just landed in Africa? After a short pause, the plane took off again, climbing over a broad, muddy river wounding to the sea. Our destination was Jayapura, the capital city, located on the northeastern side of the island. The high peaks that comprise the backbone of New Guinea were dusted by a fine white frost. Mountains changed into hills and gorges. We flew over the Mamberamo, called the Amazon of Papua, a sizeable river that twisted and strained like a chained snake, throwing off muddy oxbow lakes. Not a road, town, village, shack or clearing was visible in the wilderness below. The plane banked steeply and swung over the black waters of lake Sentani, and, with a final lurch, slid onto the runway under the watchful gaze of the towering Cyclops Mountains.