So it’s the morning of day 7 and we’re at the half way point on the trek. It’s about now I’m starting to think that finishing this thing is actually possible. Given my knee twisting scare the day before and a little swelling is still evident this morning, I wonder what’s ahead and whether I’ll make it. I can actually feel my body starting to change. Some weight is definitely starting to drop off, but it’s kind of strange, almost as though my body intuitively knows that it needs to kick into the next gear and I start to feel as though I’m on some kind of auto pilot. There have been enough days, doing the same thing over and over, for it to become an established routine, so I guess that’s what happens to athletes…?
The only other thing I need to do is get my head in order. I’ve lost a little confidence after the fall, but I refuse to give in. This chick is going to make it come hell or high water. The half way point is definitely a psychological boost.
We set off from Efogi early after yet another 4.00am wake up call. A fairly steep climb for about an hour up to the lookout at 1305m. We’re on our way to Brigade Hill, one of the major battle sites on the track. I’m looking forward to this section, I’ve read a bit about it before coming to PNG.
Although it’s early, it’s hot and humid as we climb, the sweat is pouring off us as we make our way up this God forsaken mountain. I’m silent again for most of the way, but we reach the top for a short rest and a snack before heading down to Nishimura’s Tree.
Kokichi Nishimura’s was a Japanese soldier who fought the diggers on Brigade Hill. Known as the ‘Bone Man of Kokoda’ he returned to PNG after the war to recover the remains of his deceased comrades. We stop at this particular tree stump to hear about his story. After surviving being shot three times, he was the only man of his 56 member platoon to survive the Battle of Brigade Hill. After hiding in this tree stump, he was eventually rescued. He was reportedly a day away from dying. He felt a debt to his comrades for helping him to survive, and 25 years after the war had ended, he became increasingly annoyed by the attitude of his countrymen and government towards Japan’s war dead. Hundreds of thousands of men had sacrificed their lives for their country and the Japanese Government seemed hesitant to acknowledge them, as if ashamed of the country’s role in starting a war that had caused death and destruction on such a profound scale (The Bone Man of Kokoda by Charles Happell). It was in fact Japan’s first war time loss.
We all stood around this stump in the eerie silence as our trek leader John finished telling Nishimura’s tale. I wondered about the ghosts that might still haunt this place….then all of a sudden a darkened figure, complete with war paint and a replica gun, bursts out of the tree stump and screams, scaring the living daylights out of us, well mostly out of Renea…it was her cheeky porter Gideon who carried out this neat little reenactment! The rest of the porters thought it was hilarious, made for lots of sneaky giggles between themselves for the remainder of the day.
We made our way onto Brigade Hill, where we stopped at the memorial site for a short service and a minute’s silence. An emotional moment for many of us as we stood there above the clouds in this majestic location. It was difficult to imagine that this place was also nicknamed “Butcher’s Hill” by the Aussie soldiers due to the numbers killed on both sides during the Australian withdrawal.
After stopping to buy a few bilums from the local villagers, we pressed on down the mountain for another 2 and a half hours to Menari Village. We were supposed to be staying here tonight, but as we have been travelling really well, we made the decision to press on for another 3 hours (after Menari) to a village by the name of Agulogo. This would also change the itinerary for our final days on the trek, making the last few relatively easy, as far as walking time goes.
As we walk on through to Menari, we come across the rest of the trekking group from the Australian Taxation Office in Brisbane (we had met a small party of them earlier at Brigade Hill). It was a massive group, I think about 27 trekkers, plus their porters etc… So we decide to give them a mexican wave, complete with clapping and chanting as they pass us. I am sure they thought we were on something… Pretty funny really, we’re all so full of beans…and they weren’t, but little did we know we were about to experience what they just did, and it wasn’t going to be pretty, well not for me anyway.
We stop at Menari Village for lunch. It’s a hot day and we’re out in the open. It’s tuna, 2 minute noodles, SPAM and No 1 Tea again… I decide to mix my tuna with the 2 minute noodles…actually, it’s not bad! I think I’m delirious..
OK so nobody warned us about this next bit… the Menari Gap. Straight UP for over an hour, and when I say up, that means almost freakin’ vertical! We found out later, that Terry, our lead porter actually hates this hill. Thanks for the warning guys…maybe on reflection though it was probably best we didn’t know about it, particularly as we had all just eaten lunch and were trying to digest that lovely concoction of protein.
I struggle with this mountain, it’s the middle of the day, steaming hot and no rainforest canopy to hide from the sun belting down on us. I’m sucking down the water all the way up, but on reaching the top I realised I had paid the price of not taking in enough electrolytes. I was ready to collapse… I felt quite sick to be honest. The boys all looked at me as I met them at the top and immediately noticed I wasn’t 100%. Apparently I was white…
NEK MINNIT…my wonderful mates are running around filling me up with Staminade and taking my pack off me, devising a plan to share carrying it for me for the rest of the day. I was overwhelmed and emotional. Feeling guilty as they took on my pack, I was also feeling quite teary and grateful to be hanging out with an awesome bunch of caring people. That mateship trait was coming out in all of us and this was a poignant moment for me.
It was also at this point, I started to get an idea of what the Aussie soldiers would have felt like, without any of the nutritional products we were fortunate to have. We heard stories of dysentry, malnutrition and disease and that’s not taking into consideration the fact that they were carrying weapons, artillery and dodging the Japanese…
For the Australians on the Kokoda track the main problem was dysentery. An outbreak began in mid-August near Ioribaiwa and spread up and down the track from there, arriving at the front line at the end of the Battle of Isurava as the Australian retreat began. For the next two months from 30 to 80 men each day, from a force varying in size from 2000 to 3000 men, were evacuated sick, mostly with dysentery. In November the Australians advanced out of the Owen Stanley Range, where there was no malaria, down on to the lowlands about Gona, Buna and Sanananda. The dysentery epidemic had been brought under control just as malaria began to take hold. By 27 December 4857 Australians had been evacuated sick from the front line. This was more than half of all the Australians who had fought in the campaign to that point.
As we begin to take on the downhill part of this mountain called The Wall (yes it’s called that for a reason – 300m of vertical drop), I am acutely aware of how quickly things can change if you’re not giving your body what it needs to function in adverse conditions. Having said that, the downhill sections are my favourite, and as I begin to bound down the slope with my trusty porter in tow, I’m starting to feel much better. Another hour and a half of this and we’re done and dusted for the day. But the fun aint over yet….soooo many tree roots. We’re all beginning to become a bit tired of them, they slow you down! There’s no looking around at the scenery, it’s eyes down the whole way. One wrong move and it can potentially mean the end of the trek for anyone, particularly Chad who has walked the whole way so far with a fairly significant knee injury (sustained at a soccer match a month or so prior to coming away). He’s booked in for surgery a week after returning home, so he’s extra careful on the downhill!
We finally reach Agulogo Village greeted by smiling children and a most beautiful, loud running creek. It was truly an oasis in the middle of nowhere. It doesn’t take us long to drop our packs and shoes and jump right in, fully clothed. After a rugged 9 hour day, we are in absolute heaven!
Some of us spent the afternoon exploring the village, others decided a game of UNO was more appealing, and there were the crazy young few that thought a game of soccer with the village locals after 9 hours of trekking would be the order of the day…I was happy to sit back and watch that one! The children at Agulogo were absolutely delightful, and damn good soccer players too I might add! Some of the younger ones were keen to hang out with Renea and I as we were giving out balloons. We were completely besotted with these kids, Renea wanted to take them all home.
We settle in for the night, with yet another spectacular sunset becoming part of the routine and reflect on the day that was with the sound of the village children singing at their church session….and in the words of Louis Armstrong, I said to myself….what a wonderful world.
Steps taken: 26,081
Quote of the Day: Renea – As she’s walking through the creek in bare feet at the end of 7 days on the track “I’m not used to uneven ground!”