Western New Guinea – A Journey Into An Untouched World

A few words about Western New Guinea

Western New Guinea or West Papua is the western half of the island of New Guinea, which belongs to the continent of Australia. Western New Guinea is part of the Republic of Indonesia, while the eastern part is Papua New Guinea.

There are about 3 million inhabitants, who cultivate about 260 (!) different languages and dialects. The lifestyle of the region could best be described as ‘back to the roots’. In the west, a large part of the population feeds on hunting and gathering.

Accordingly, a trip to this region is relatively long and certainly full of adventures and experiences.

West Papua

Alexander Palacios Introduces Himself

Alexander, you made an impressive journey to Western New Guinea. First tell us something about yourself.

I have been living in Switzerland since 2005, 11 years in the Basel area and one year in Zurich.

I’m a photographic artist in the field of fashion photography. Among other things, I have worked for various magazines and commercial companies. I also work in portrait photography.

In 2010 I won the Hasselblad Junior Contest in Switzerland, my prints are sold worldwide. At auctions such as the Hotel Dolder, my works reached prices of up to CHF 15,000.

What visual language do you cultivate?

In the field of cultural photography, my pictures describe real and untouched worlds. Among other things, they are collages, the way I see things and absorb them through my senses.

How exactly do such projects work?

Through my frequent travelling and discovering worlds, new projects emerge. These inspirations, combined with my photography, are the foundation of my exhibitions.

Since life outside of Europe or the western civilized world is quite different, you have to be very flexible. It is important to rely on one’s own qualities, with a greater goal: to see interesting and new things, to discover them and bring them home with you. To inspire people and on request these pictures are for sale.

West New Guinea

New Guinea

An adventure trip through Western New Guinea

Why Western New Guinea?

A friend’s family owns a company (http://www.papua-indonesia.com), they have always offered trips to various corners of Papua. The Baliem Valley is still relatively untouched and has great adventures. So we set out to explore this beautiful region and discover the indigenous people.

What were the challenges?

I had the biggest concerns because of the risky flight.

The Baliem Valley and the airport are located at about 1600m above sea level, surrounded by mountains. The airport can only be approached by sight. Due to short term fog formation airplanes often crash.

There were two crashes within approx. 10 days before our arrival. The airline ‘Trigana’, with which one flies from Jayapura to Wamena, belongs to the most dangerous airlines of the world. But my curiosity and interest in other cultures and stories was stronger.

Western New Guinea

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What about cultural differences?

As a child I have always lived between different worlds, as the son of a Peruvian and a German mother. Often it was difficult to be treated differently because of the colour of the skin. But now I am very happy because I can walk around in different worlds in a very inconspicuous way.

In Wamena, however, one notices that there are hardly any Europeans there. The inhabitants of Western New Guinea resemble optically the well-known Aborigines from Australia.

During a trip to the city of Wamena, the people look at you like a zoo animal. But if you smile at the people or wave to them, they have such a warm-hearted charisma and are happy with you. There are few fears of contact, which I noticed especially on the trekking tour.

adventure western new guinea
western new guinea adventure

What were your greatest adventures in Western New Guinea?

You sleep in huts on straw, in the middle of it a campfire. You need the fire so the rats don’t come. Fire and straw at the same time really take getting used to. Once one of our porters kindly put a candle in the middle of the straw while we slept.

It is normal for people to sleep in smoke because it keeps them warm. This leads to problems with the bronchi, both young and old. Life expectancy is about 60 years.

Also very interesting for me to see, is that men have top trained bodies. Due to the sun and the smoke, men usually look 20 years older than they are. Medicine and telephones or Internet do not exist. If a fire breaks out or a rockfall occurs in the gorge, you are on your own. 

Were you scared once?

Yes, when we had to cross a bridge. The locals advised us not to cross it. The bridge was sloping due to the soaked ground and the rotten wood. Many boards were broken and we had to decide if we wanted to risk it. The other option was a 36 hour detour. So we made a plan how to cross the bridge without an accident.

The water whipped against the stones, one hardly understood his colleagues. There was only one steel cable between you and the torrential floods. I tried to calm down and carefully cross the bridge.

These are all experiences that we no longer have to make in our civilized world. When I then commute between worlds and hear what some people complain about, all these problems seem a bit strange.

reise west neuguinea
reise westneuguinea

What was your motivation?

For me there is not only the striving for ‘higher’, ‘faster’ and ‘further’ in our culture. Life offers more. I hope to motivate people to do something for their consciousness.

What wisdom would you like to give us on our way?

In the Baliem Valley we visited the Danis. They made a pig festival for us. We could become part of the culture and experience one of their highest festivals. We became part of the family. Although it was difficult to see how an animal is killed, I could see that the people treat the animals and nature very respectfully.

Many say they would like to experience such adventures. To this I say: every day you have the opportunity to get rid of your fears. Change means progress.

einwohner westneuguinea

uhreinwohner west neuguinea

You also sell your photos…

Yes, I always try to find new interested parties and investors who are interested in my works of art. This allows me to always tell new stories and show inspiring pictures.


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