Travels to Irian.

Irian is the Easternmost province of Indonesia, and is half of the island of New Guinea.

After a long flight via Jakarta to Yajapura, we found a hotel near Sentani where we had to wait for our travel permits (travel to the inland of Irian is strictly regulated, with many locations closed for foreigners). During the wait we took a small trip to Angkasa. There it should be easy to find n. neoguinensis, they stand even close to the road we have been told. We find nothing at the said location, but locals point to a small hill, and confirm that we will find plants there. One of them comes along to show the way, and it helps as the pad quickly becomes a small trail. Immediately we find n. ampullaria, but without pitchers. They stay with us all along the path. However, it takes steep climbing before we find the first n. neoguinensis at an altitude of 430 meter. Then they disappear again, and we find a second group at 475 m. Turning back to go down via another path we find a cluster with large  pitchers. The soil here at the hill is red and must contain a lot of iron.

 

 

We finally get our permits for the highlands, and fly to Wamena. Wamena is true Papua country, and we see the people walking around in traditional dress. Despite their pride, the Papua are a poor people in the highlands, condemned to beg for a living, having their picture taken by tourists for 10 cents (this was before the economical crisis). The shops and businesses in Wamena are in the hands of immigrated Javanese or Balinese, and the old owners of the land can only watch. I will say no more, but the Papua (which is one of the gentlest people I have ever met) deserves better, and people interested in more than carnivorous plants should do some reading.

Wamena is the base for highland trekking around the famous Baliem valley, the North being more popular with the tourists as there are primitive roads and busses. We decide to go South. Taking proviand at the local market we are surrounded by Papuas, for whom this is the main gathering place. Before taking of we walk to the Baliem river, and find n.maxima in a savanna-like environment, dry with dense ferns.

Then, the next day the walk starts. From Wamena at 1600 m altitude we follow the Baliem up to the place where the remnants of the large 1990 earthquake (destroyed many villages and left hundreds dead) are still visible. There is no forest, only isolated trees which look like eucalyptus. I think that during the 30000 years inhabitation of the valley most of the trees have been used for wood. The whole valley is used for agriculture, and small plots stabilised with stone walls dot the steep slopes. In Kurima we cross the Baliem, and the path starts going up. We walk past walled-in small parcels, and even the path is kind of paved and walled. This must have been the work of generations, and we can imagine the amount of hard labour it has cost. We pass villages, clusters of tree to five round huts and two barns. They are fortified, but the walls have small doors to let the pigs out. Finally we reach Hitugi, and join the village head on a couscous-hunt. There is no coucous to be seen, but after two hours we find nepenthes. They are maxima, as most of the nepenthes we will see in Irian. However, there is so much variation in the n. maxima that it is always a joy to find them. Going back to the village we are greeted on the path by an old man carrying a whole bunch of pitchers. The plants just grow behind the village......

Second day, we leave the Baliem and follow the Mogi-river. We lose the height we gained yesterday, going down to 1400 meter, but climb again to the ridge at 2400 m, before descending to Yogosem. The village is already Yali (Wamena is Dani-country. There are subtle differences in dress and housing). Malaria is rampant and medication is poor. The next village, Anguruk, lost 20% of the population couple of months ago it seems. No nepenthes, but we find fossilised coral. Yogosem disappears in the evening clouds, and we withdraw in our tent, stared at by all the children of the village.

Next day we follow a path that seems like glued to the mountain side, and some views are like from a plane, that deep. All of the sudden the landscape changes. No more agriculture, but forest and savanna, and even two stretches of mossy forest. Pollypompollyx appears, and we see a lot of orchids. They look like heliamphora, and even the flowers look alike. A solitary nepenthes is sitting on the ridge, definitely a n. maxima, but the next one differs with a small inflorescence and single seed capsules. However, we are close to 2900 m, and the plants are most stunned by the harsher climate. We cross the final ridge at 3200 m, and start going down in what looks like a small river bed. As it starts to rain, we all of the sudden discover that it is indeed one. We cross and re-cross, and finally find an empty Yali hut at 2300 m, just before dark. The guide and porters take the hut, and we manage to get the tent up in a cleared section. The next morning we continue, and the river remains the only path, only becoming larger and more difficult to scale, with cascades and rapids. We need six hours to do 6 km and to descend 1400 m. We decide to stop in the next village and so that we can dry the tent and recover from yesterday. The children follow us on our walks around, singing and yelling, and we find some red n. maxima. The landscape has definitely changed. We are crossing marshy grounds at 2300 m. We do see many Polypomphollyx, no nepenthes, and continue at level, so we see the next village - Ninia - for hours as we follow the contours of the mountain. Just before the entry of Ninia we find red n. maxima, and also some plants with yellow pitchers. The water running down from the mountain is red with iron, and I wonder if this is the cause for the red pitchers. The next morning we see a small plane coming in. The pilot circles twice, and suddenly disappears behind a hill and touches down 200 m below us. The start is as spectacular. Leaving Ninia we descend 500 m and follow a real rotten path, small, stony and wet. Luckily there are waterfalls left and right,and the views are superb. All of the sudden red leaves appear in the bushes: n. papuana at last. There is only one inflorescence, but no seeds. We keep on walking up to the ridge at 1700 m, and before we see the village we find green n. maxima. In the village itself we are the attraction and there is no way we have any privacy. It is evening and the temperature drops to 14 degrees, talk about the tropics!

Next day we start the last leg to Holuwon. What we thought to be an easy trip becomes distance walking, with the path following the contours of the mountain, and doing double or more of the real distance. The landscape changes to savanna, and yes indeed, n. papuana appears again. The pitchers look different from the first population, but I think that, given the distance between the two, this is normal.

Around Holuwon we try to find n. papuana in seed, and although we find plenty of n. maxima, n. ampullaria (despite the altitude) and n. papuana, only the n. maxima carries seed. Surprising to see that some of the seed of the n. maxima grows in single capsules instead of paired ones. The other characteristics remain the same. We find that n. maxima prefers dry soil, n. ampullaria the wet, and n. papuana grows on both.

 

Getting out of Holuwon is an experience, with a small Cesna taking off over the rim of the Baliem. The Grand Canyon is small fry, believe me!

Back in Wamena we take a flight to Biak, the old capital, which lies on an island off the coast of New Guinea. There we rent a small motorbike and follow the coast till the road becomes a sand path. Standing on the side and hanging over the cliffs are dried out populations of n. insignis. According to village people even on the small islands there are populations of nepenthes.

A long, 4-stop flight takes us to Bali for a week of relax.