When I originally heard about First Contact, a trip offered by Woolford’s trekking company, Papua Adventures, I couldn’t believe he was really doing what he claimed to be doing. An easygoing American expat from Springfield, Missouri, who jokingly describes himself as a "hillbilly," Woolford marches into the jungle in search of uncontacted native tribes who have never seen outsiders–and who aren’t supposed to mind tourists barging into their lives. I had trouble buying the idea that, in the 21st century, there were still nomadic hunter-gatherers out there using stone tools and rubbing sticks together to start a fire. But there are, Woolford assured me. From his home in Ubud, Bali, he explained the strategy behind his First Contact trips.
"There are a handful of places in West Papua that are untouched–still Stone Age tribes, still cannibals," he said. "It’s just that a lot of people are too scared to go look for them."
Making contact with tribal people is a risky business–a simple flu could wipe them out. But Kelly Woolford insists that he’s mindful of such risks. "We don’t try [sic] to corrupt them," he says. "Five minutes is all we do."