Monday, August 24, 2009

Day 1 - Sydney > Port Moresby > Sogeri

You know that feeling when you are desperate to go to sleep - but sleep just won't come? That was me last night. So many thoughts going through my head. The trek. The plane trips. The people. What would it be like? Try as I might, I couldn't stop thinking, and it seemed that I was awake all night.

That is, until the alarm went off at 4:20AM. Then my eyes refused to open. I dragged myself out of bed, cursing the fact that I had still been packing last night at 10:00PM. Showered, said my goodbyes, and off to the airport.

I was lucky enough to be first in line at check-in. It concerned me that my bag weighed in at 27kg - but didn't seem to bother the lady behind the Air Niugini counter. Sure, I had clothes for Brisbane when I got back. And some books and gifts to give to a village along the way. But still - my pack was only supposed to weigh 12kg before water - I wonder how much it will really weigh...

I then tried to exchange some $AU for Kina. Unfortunately, they only had K50 notes - which would do me no good on the track when the locals charge K5 for a bunch of bannanas, so I decided to wait till I got to Moresby.

The plane trip saw me seated next to a couple of nurses from Tamworth, travelling with a couple of doctors to Rabaul. They were on their way to organise for a trip later in the year when they would do volunteer surgical work for the locals. The usual questions - "How long will it take?" (10 days trekking) - "How far is it?" (I'm doing the original wartime track which is 155km rather than the tourist route of 96km) - "What training have you done?" (5 months of intense work; 4 walks per week with 18kg backpack, 2 weights sessions (legs and core), 2 HIIT sessions) - "Are you catching the same type of plane as that which crashed?" (yes).

Unfortunately, the headwinds meant our flight was late landing, which meant that 2 planes arrived just before us. The immigration queue started on the top landing, went down 3 ramps, then snaked its way through the immigration section. The queue for locals dissapeared quickly - at which point the person manning that station went to lunch. Meanwhile, 1 person handled everyone who wasn't a local. It took an hour to get through.

Into baggage collection without a problem, then to the money exchange. I was pleasantly suprised to find that the exchange rate was about $1 > K2, whereas in Sydney it was $1 > K1.77 plus a $15 commission!

I was the last into the arrivals hall, where I met up with our group. Peter Davis, the trek leader, is a farmer from Orange, with a passion for all things PNG. He is also attending ADFA studying military history - specialising in PNG. Then there is the gym junkie couple from Perth. Alex (26) a mining engineer and Catherine (25), an admin person at a finance company. They met at the gym, and both play sport a couple of times a week. Very fit looking. Catherine is bubbly, and Alex a bit reserved. Perhaps his upbringing in Zimbabwe? Who knows. Will be interesting to see how they warm up during the trek. Then there is the father / son team of farmers from 6 hours south of Perth - Paul and Sam. Paul (50), the farther has a warm persona and a ready laugh. Sam (20), who is currently going to uni (studying farming of course) is friendly but perhaps a bit shy, with a ready smile. Paul trained on a rowing machine - but only for 10 minutes a day. Sam did some walks and gym work, and is carrying a few extra kilos. He would be my bet for the person who might struggle (after he listed the sport he plays as drinking...).
Then a bus tour of Port Moresby. Scary place. 5th highest murder rate in the world. Us "whities" should only travel with a couple of local security personnel in the vehicle. Nothing like what I remember as a kid growing up here. Razor wire everywhere. People on the streets looking lost/mean/disinterested. We're told that the unemployment rate is 87% in Moresby - and there is no such thing as the dole. Security guards everywhere. The whole place has a tense atmosphere. Not a nice place to be.

That contrasts with Bomana War Cemetery. A beautiful, well maintained, solemn place. Marble headstones of the diggers who died fighting to keep the Japs away from Oz. Thousands of stories buried with the boys. A few of them told by Peter. We'll hear more as the trip progresses, but the ages surprise - many of them in their late 20's and into their 30's. I guess that reflects the fact that many of these guys were the home guard - couldn't get into the regular army for age / physical / work reasons. Emotions swelled, but tears were kept in check.

From there we travelled up the hill to Sogeri. With at least 20 wrecks seen over the edge of the sheer sided road, the trip gave a feel for what was ahead.
Our "hotel" (the term used loosely) for the night was the Sogeri Lodge. Rooms were very basic, with a hard bed, harder pillow, bars on the windows, razor wire around the perimeter, and 2 bathrooms down the hall. A pretty good dinner of steak and vegies, with icecream for desert was followed by a trek briefing and allocation of backpacks. Alex and I are the only ones carrying our own packs. I hope I can keep up with him - I don't really care if I can't keep up with the others who are just carrying their water.

Peter reviewed what I was about to pack, and I was able to ditch half the first aid kit - which saved at least a kilo. My guess is that the pack will weigh in at 16kg when I add the 4 litres of water. More weight than I wanted, but nothing I can do about it at this late stage.

Missing Kerrie and the kids already. Luckily I was able to call her. In bed by 10, and pretty tired.

Tomorrow will see a 6AM wake-up call, with breakfast at 7. I hope I can sleep tonight...

Hit the sack thinking of the phrase for the day - "Gone bugaup". Which means it's broken/stuffed. Apparently it applies to lots of things in PNG.