The health officer said that it would take two hours to walk to the distance, but after 45 minutes we had already arrived. This put his earlier information seriously in doubt! We were welcomed by the “kepala desa” (village chief) in Kalarin and took an instant liking to him and his family. The village, situated on a flat, grassy mesa, had a wonderful view of the surrounding mountains. The houses were neat and tidy, the grass and plants arranged and trimmed, and there was a gushing fountain in the center of the village. We sat in the kitchen with the chief and chatted, then asked him discreetly how much we should pay to stay with him. “Tidak pernah, tidak pernah,” he repeated, “never, never”. We insisted – surely, like all Papuans we had met, he would like us to make a small contribution. He replied, “we’re Christians here.” It turned out that in his twenty-five years of being chief, a tourist had never stayed overnight! It was also a strict, non-smoking Adventist Christian place. Our offers of cigarettes were politely declined. It was a welcome change from the constant requests elsewhere, but what were we going to do with all the packs we had brought along?
According to the kepala desa, the trail to lake Archbold was indeed difficult. There were also “little snakes” that suck blood. We were not prepared to brave deep mud and leeches. As a compromise, we decided to walk to the pass in order to look at the lake. Martin, the chief’s son, offered to take us. The next day he appeared, barefoot, wearing an army jacket and carrying a BB gun. The high cloud forest on the way to the pass was filled with strange-looking pandanus palms and twisted trees. Orchids and brightly-colored flowers grew in the mossy branches above. We walked over slippery logs and along wet, muddy trenches. After several hours, we climbed the final steep, rocky incline and emerged at a narrow pass. The forest fell away in front of us, replaced by an impenetrable gray wall of clouds. We sat down to wait for the clouds to lift and grant us a view of the lake below. The air was chilly. It started to sprinkle. After about an hour of waiting a hole in the clouds appeared, revealing the valley and the lake far in the distance below. It looked much smaller than we expected, but wonderfully pristine.
There was only enough time to take a few pictures before the clouds closed again, hiding everything from view. According to Martin, the next village, Roma, was only three hours away. So it is possible to walk all the way to the lake in two days! Despite the disappointment, we were happy not to be fighting slippery mud and hungry leeches. On our way back to Kalarin, Martin cut us some pineapple and led us to their family’s garden. Next to a small hut was a passion fruit plant, its vines creeping high into the surrounding trees. Martin climbed up into the high branches and started throwing the heavy, ripe fruit down. Soon we had a noken overflowing with the tasty, orange fruit. Back at the chief’s house, everyone shared the sweet fruit. Behind the fountain was a bathing area sheltered by a row of bushes with a view of the valley. It was wonderful to have a clean, cold bath after our day’s hike.
That night we made a pot of sweet potato curry for the whole family. After a little encouragement, they tasted the strange food, then, finished the pot. The chief’s brother, the local pastor, sat with us around the fire. We looked at his bible, written in western Dani, and tried to read parts of it aloud. Another man from the village peered into the fire and mused when we mentioned lake Archbold. In 1977, he said, the Indonesian army invaded. Many people fled for the lake. When they returned, only corpses remained. “We have waited so long. When will Papua be free?”
Back from our trek, we met with Clive in Wamena for a final meal at the best restaurant in town, the Blambangan. The house specialty is Baliem river crayfish fried in spicy butter sauce. Ferdinand, who had helped us find our guide, was waiting for one of his groups to arrive. He came over to chat with us, wish us all the best and say goodbye.
Despite the variable weather, we took off from Wamena on short notice in the early afternoon. In Sentani, we went to see Usman. He staggered out of his room, trembling. His hands were hot and his eyes were glassy. Was it malaria? Eric walked him to the local clinic for a test. It turned out to be Malaria Tropicana, luckily not the most dangerous strain.