The Central Highlands: Rugged Mountains & Traditional Villages

central.jpgMost visitors to Papua make the rugged, remote, and very scenic Central Highlands the main destination of their trip. The primary gateway here is the famous Baliem Valley, first "discovered" by the outside world only in the middle of the last century, and then found to be home to a huge population of "Warlike Cannibals Still Living in Stone Age". It made headlines throughout the World, and the legend still manages to live on. Well, times have changed! Today, cannibalism has been replaced by Christianity of one form or another, grass-skirts and penis-gourds, still common right until the end of the 90es, have largely been replaced by cheap, western-style clothing, stone axes by steel ones, and shell money by the rupiah. And yet, the Highlands still remain a place like no other. Beneath the thin veil of modern clothes and western religion, traditional values and lifestyles remain very strong. Villages are still mostly made up by traditional, thatch-and-wood round huts where the women take care of their beloved pigs and the men gather in smoky men’s houses. The gardens blanketing the hillsides are tended in the traditional way, with the traditional foodstuff, sweet potato, still being the staple of the Papuan diet here. Babies and produce alike are carried in traditional noken (net bags) by the hard-working womenfolk. Tourism is now a regular part of the local economy in the Baliem and in a few more popular areas nearby, but even these are far from being overrun. In fact the once legendary Grand Valley itself is now largely given a miss in favour of areas that look more remote on the map. Most budding explorers are limited by their own limited time or budget though, so areas more than a week’s walk away from Wamena very rarely see visitors. In any case, being further from Wamena doesn’t necessarily mean "more traditional", as most blessings of the modern era arrive in the Highlands by plane to tiny airstrips which are all over the region. So don’t dream of discovering untouched primitives, just come here to enjoy the splendid scenery, the remoteness, and the real, present-day culture, and you are likely to return home with lasting memories.

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