Adventures in Papua, Jungle Trekking + Planes With No Seats: Part 2

The summit of Carstensz Pyramid seemed so abrupt. I trained for months and months and after only one complete day on the mountain we had already summited. It felt strange but still very satisfying. The next part of our journey would take us through a place that very few outsiders have ever seen, the jungles of Papua. Our porters from the local Papuan tribes arrived in the late afternoon on the day after the summit. There were about a dozen of them, most without shoes but with huge smiles. I couldn't process how they could walk barefoot on the sharp rocks but I would soon see that they are just tough. The rocks didn't even seem to phase them. As we prepared for our short trek to the first camp the porters had an intense negotiation with our local guides. It was interesting to stand back and listen even though we had no clue what was going on. After about 30 minutes a deal was struck and off we went. Our first day was extremely short, only about 2 hours over the nearest ridge. It rained for most of the trek. We would camp next to the light blue glacier fed lake we saw a few days ago and with the steep wet rocks surrounding us made us feel like we were on another planet.

The next morning was clear and beautiful but our Indonesian guides insisted that we wear our rubber rain boots that day. It was fairly dry around camp but over New Zealand pass was supposedly muddy. My boots were pretty comfortable so I thought I would give it a shot. The first part of the trail was steep and rocky; terrible in rubber boots. As we climbed we got our last looks at Carstensz. It was so clear you could even see the Tyrolean Traverse near the summit. Looking at the traverse from this perspective made my heart skip a beat. We cruised up to the top of New Zealand pass and said our farewells to the mountain. As we began the descent the landscape changed drastically. The jagged peaks were replaced with hills covered by vegetation but the steepness didn't change. The initial descent was hairy. The steep steps down onto moss or loose gravel wasn't to scary, it was the steep drop off to each side and below that freaked me out. We took our time down and eventually it leveled out...for a bit. we descended by two stunning lakes and into the more dense vegetation. I was hoping we would encounter mud at some point to justify my choice in boots but we didn't. It was fairly dry everywhere. Once in the vegetation the trek became more difficult. Not only did it become insanely step again but we had to balance on slippery tree roots and watch out for hidden holes in the underbrush. It was intense but so much fun. The porters were right on our heals which was incredibly impressive. They navigated this crazy terrain with huge bags and no shoes as easily as you or I would stroll down the sidewalk. We reached a beautiful camp in an open field and got some rest before another big day.

The next morning I awoke early and watched the sunrise over camp and into the valley. It was a great time to reflect on what an amazing journey this had been. I was in complete amazement about where I was; in the middle of nowhere Papua Indonesia. So wild. We set off early and had a big day ahead of us. The first part of our day was spent in what our local guides called a savannah. There were few trees, mostly grasses and man was it hot and humid. The hiking was easy but the heat was brutal. We covered a huge amount of ground throughout the day and gained and lost a ton of elevation. We started at over 12,000ft dropped down to under 10,000 then all the way back to over 12,000ft and finally back to around 11,000. It was an epic day.

Day three of our trek was the most exciting for me, we were finally going into the jungle! I have never really been in a jungle so I couldn't wait to experience it. Once we entered the trekking became extremely difficult. Slippery roots crisscrossed the trail and while I was focusing on my footing I also had to keep my eyes peeled for low branches hanging overhead. I had to focus constantly in order to not trip and keep up our pace. The jungle was stunning. The trail in many parts was simply a log spanning over a small ravine. It was fun balancing across the logs and climbing over downed trees. The best part of the trek was when we approached the river. The trail traversed back and forth across the river. Some of the bridges were simply trees laying from bank to bank and others were bunches of sticks and bamboo tied together. Every bridge was a little scary and super exciting. Along the banks, where it was to steep for a trail, log platforms were hammered into the bank. It was simply amazing. In the late afternoon we came across one of the coolest sights I have ever seen. A family of four was standing beside their hut next to the river. This family lived in the middle of the jungle and were pretty excited to see outsiders walk by their home. It was a spectacular sight. We had to cross the river one more time before camp but this time there was no bridge. We had to wade through the middle of it. The water wasn't super deep but it was still a bit scary, fortunately two porters, a mother and son, waited for us. She waded into the middle of the river and helped us all across. They were amazing and made us feel so safe and welcome. The last night in the tent was spent in a less than ideal campsite. It was up above the river on a not so flat clearing. Although the camping that night wasn't the most comfortable, I was bummed that the trip was almost over and this would be our last night in the tent.

I slept surprisingly well considering I ended up in a ball in the corner of the tent. We packed the tents for the final time and headed out for the short hike to the village. The trail was similar to the day prior. Narrow trails crisscrossing the river with no sign of civilization. We hiked for several hours, trying to absorb all the sights and sounds of the jungle when a small hut appears on a hill in the distance. We were almost there! Around another corner sweet potato fields covered the sides of hills. We climbed up and down hills when finally we came to a fence. We crawled over and through the sweet potato fields. We came across the river the village uses and four boys were playing in the water...with HUGE machetes in their hands! It was a little startling but I had to remember that is the way of life here. We hung out with the boys for awhile, filled our water and just enjoyed our surroundings.

As we finished off our trek we strolled into the most amazing place I have ever been, the village of Surangama. Pigs ran about, children laughed and played, the older gentlemen of the village sat and enjoyed cigarettes and everyone smiled and welcomed us to their home. We dropped our gear and then sat in the open space between the huts with all the villagers. We took pictures and laughed with them, I even held a new baby! The villagers really got a kick out of that! As night fell we were invited into a hut and sat around the fire. It was so peaceful sitting with the family and the pigs inside the hut. What an amazing experience!

We left the village at 6:00AM and I was really sad to leave. I could've spent days there. We had a hour motorcycle ride to Sugama and the airport and man that was scary. The first part of the ride was along a dirt trail, through streams and around tons of windy roads. It was freaky but once we reached a better dirt road it was fun! We arrived safely to the airport and waited for our plane to arrive. As we waited several pigs ran across the runway and people hung out next to it. As the plane came into land the airport "security" person had to clear the runway and yell at people to get back. The plane landed, the cargo unloaded, then we were ready to go. I walked over to the plane as I was about to get in the "security" guy said "There are no seats, that ok?" I was a little shocked but he was right, there were no seats but what choice did we have. As I crawled in and toward the front of the plane and worker told me to hook my feet under some straps that were on the ground. He said, "Like a seatbelt." It was more hilarious than scary. We all loaded in with the bags sitting loose in the middle and took off. Luckily it was a smooth flight and the pilot even shared his lunch with us! We landed in Nabire safely and headed to the hotel and showers. It was amazing to call home and rinse the sweat of the journey off. It was a little tough to get used to all these amenities but it was great to relax and reflect on this spectacular journey.

Thank you for reading about this amazing journey and I also want to thank Laurie Kelley and LA Kelley Communications. Laurie has always believed in this crazy dream and without her support I don't know if I would've made it this far. I hope you all keep following this journey and please let me know if there is anything else you want to hear about! I love sharing my experiences!