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Wolo cave

Wolo Valley

We were lucky to get a ride all the way from the central bemo station to Wolo, a side-valley of the Baliem. The last bit of road was a muddy track, but our driver was experienced and managed to get through it. A man we met in the van invited us to their house for a drink and gave us some bananas for the road. We promised to stop at their place on the way back to get some tangerines. We walked up the dusty track in the hot sun towards Iluga, the next village. A man walking our way showed us where we could refill our bottles with fresh, clean water. Some of the streams were wading pools for pigs, so it paid to be careful and always ask the locals. The Wolo valley is cut from limestone. On the far side of the valley was a forest of pinnacles. We passed a giant cave in a sinkhole. After walking to the edge to look inside, we saw an old woman wailing and crying. She kept repeating the word for pig, “wam”. Had one of the pigs broken into the garden to eat potatoes? When she saw us, she took our hands and held them a long time in hers, peering into our faces and crooning. As we shook her limp hand, we noticed that only the first phalanges remained. Formerly, in the Baliem valley, when a woman loses a close male relative, one finger joint is amputated. Today only older women have missing fingers - the practice has mostly died out. Walking back to Wolo, we met others Papuans who were thrilled to meet foreigners. Back in the village, we asked about it. Perhaps they remember how well people were treated (until the early 1960s) under the Dutch? We commented on the fact that people in Papua like to see foreigners. Our host looked straight at us and said that the Indonesian army massacres people, and that Papuans want freedom. What did we think about freedom for Papua?

Wolo valley

We had missed the bemo from Wolo back to the main road. There was no option but to walk the last 10km through the valley to the main turnoff to catch a van back to Wamena. We were worried about getting a ride back so late in the day. Usually public transport in Indonesia dries up in the afternoon. Luckily, we managed to find a broken-down minivan with a half-crazed Indonesian driver willing to take us back. At dusk he pulled the van over, got out and connected the headlights manually to the battery in order to see where he was going.