Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Day 2 - Sogeri > Port Moresby > Kokoda > Kovello

I was pleasantly surprised last night on going to bed that it wasn't too hot or humid. Sogeri, being up on a tableland escapes some of the Port Moresby heat, so I was expecting a good nights sleep.

Unfortunately, that was not to be. Not sure why, but it seemed that I was awake every hour or two. I also woke at 4:20, my usual get up time, and couldn't get back to sleep. The good part was that I was able to complete my packing and have a shower with plenty of time till breakfast.

The pack weight feels ok, even with 4 litres of water. After Peter's help last night to lighten the load, I'm feeling a bit more confident that the pack won't weigh too much, and I might actually be able to do this. I must admit, I did put the Gastrolite back into the first aid kit - with my history of gastro bugs, if it's not in there I'm sure to catch one while we are away.

At breakfast (bacon, eggs, cereal, toast, coffee), Peter mentioned that we looked like a strong group. "What type of people do you worry about at this point?" we asked him.

"Well, there are two types of people who really struggle." he answered.

"First, there are the young guys in their early 20's, who think that their youth and fitness will get them through without having to do any specific training before they arrive."

"And then there are the older guys in their 40's who have lost 20kg, employed a personal trainer and bought all the right gear who think they will be ok, but still have more to do."

"Sh1t" I thought! "That almost exactly describes me!" I suppose I will find out a little bit today, and a lot more tomorrow if I am the one who he has to worry about...

After breakfast, we headed down the road to the old 'Koitaki Parade Ground'. This is where the troops, on returning from the track, chuffed that they had delayed a very experienced, well drilled, well armed Japanese army, who outnumbered them 6:1, were addressed by their General. The General castigated them, and gave them a right dressing down for being such failures. Apparently, he was lucky to get off the parade ground without being lynched. Now, the ground has been returned to the cows, and you can still make out the cricket oval where the men once stood 67 years ago.

To get to Koitaki, we drove along a pretty average road. The further we went from Port Moresby, the worse the road got, but the friendlier the people were, and the less razor wire was to be seen. We had to walk across a bridge on the farm to get to the ground. The bridge was two metal planks, about 4 metres above a fast flowing creek. The planks were spaced wheel track apart, and were about 30cm wide. I have to admit I didn't do well crossing. My knees were shaking and my feet were slow and unsteady. How the hell was I going to do another 50 or so creek crossings in the coming weeks, on unsteady logs, when I could hardly do this!?! I wasn't filling myself with confidence...

After Koitaki we trundled back down to the heat and humidity of Port Moresby, going straight to the airport. We arrived at the Hevilift terminal (a carport against the side of a shed) after the gate was opened by 2 security guards. It was 9:30, and our charter flight was due to leave at 10:30. Packs and people were weighed, which gave us all some peace of mind in that at least they were taking that part of safety seriously. A load sheet was completed, and the packs were taken through a doorway into the shed, ready for loading onto the plane. We waited. And waited. And waited some more. The door that the packs had been taken through was locked, and there were no Hevilift employees to be seen. Usually we would have flown Airlines PNG, but after their Twin Otter crashed near Isurava exactly two weeks ago on it's way to Kokoda, killing all 13 on board, they stopped flying to Kokoda. So, Hevilift was the next choice, but I was a bit nervous because all my money, and my passport was in the top pocket of my backpack, locked away in a shed with the Hevilift employees.

Finally at 12 o'clock we boarded the plane. There was much trepidation amongst the porters, and the trekkers too. The pilot was an American - about 50 years old - and seemed very competent. Takeoff was uneventful, and we were on our way to the 6,500 feet high Kokoda Gap. We were lucky that there was no cloud around, but it was still pretty thrilling to be flying through the gap with only about 500 feet separating us from the ground below - and not much more between us and sheer mountains on either side. Peter pointed out Isurava and several other villages on the track, and we saw trekkers wading through the choko fields below. Things were getting exciting!

An uneventful landing, and we unloaded our packs. Straight away I saw that the top pocket of my pack had been opened. I quickly checked, and was relieved to see that all my money and my passport were still there. Lucky!

We then donned packs and headed off in the heat of the day to Kokoda village. The village is on a bit of a plateau, about 25 metres above the surrounding area. Peter ran up the near vertical track, and we tried to follow. We were all breathing hard when we got to the top - and that was only a 25m climb! Following a 30 minute briefing, we sat in the shade eating pre-prepared sandwiches for lunch, then visited the museum while we waited for the rest of the porters to be brought from Port Moresby. We then had a look at weapons pits and the monuments, and waited. And waited some more. And some more. Although only a 25 minute flight each way back to Port Moresby, it wasn't until 3:30 that we finally started our trek proper. Not bad for a flight that was supposed to leave Moresby at 9:30AM for a 25 minute flight! But, this is Papua New Guinea - the land of the unexpected. I have a feeling we might see more things go bugaup over the coming couple of weeks.

The start of the trek was along flat ground, through an old rubber plantation. We were heading to Hoi Village, about a 90 minute walk up the track. However, after about 45 minutes we reached the outskirts of Kovello Village. Here, we were told that due to our late arrival, all the campsites at Hoi were being used (despite us booking one on the cool, refreshing stream there). So, the boys had decided that we should stay at Kovello instead. Just by coincidence, the locals had all dressed up in traditional costumes, and welcomed us with a traditional dance/sing along. It was only the women dancing - quite primitive. We learnt another word today - Wantoc. That is a relative or mate who you look after. I have a funny feeling that there was a bit of Wantoc at work at Kovello - it all just seemed to convenient.

The campsite was nice enough. They even had a shower of sorts - just a stream of water coming out of a pipe behind some plastic tarps. I had sweated heaps on the walk (though wasn't tired at all), so was very happy to be able to wash off under water which wasn't too cold. I unpacked ready for bed, when I discovered that my headlight/torch was missing from the top pocket of my backpack! I was really dirty with the little bstards at Hevilift! Luckily, Peter had a spare one. Then we discovered that Sam's torch had also been stolen - so he borrowed one from one of the porters. Not happy Jan!

Dinner was watery soup, heaps of Deb mashed potatoe, tuna with spices and vegetables of some sort, and was pretty tasty. My hips are sore from where the strap on the pack goes - hope they get used to that in a hurry.

We are now 45 minutes behind schedule, so will have to start 30 minutes early tomorrow. It's 7:20PM, and I'm tired. Peter and Alex are playing chess - apparently Peter is just learning. It's quiet. I'm pretty relaxed. So, it's off to bed.

A quick pee stop reveals toilets that are a big green plastic drum placed over a hole in the ground. At least I'll have somewhere to sit in the morning - which sends me to bed a happy man.