Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Day 3 - Kovello > Deniki > Isurava Village > Isurava Memorial

Another night of terrible sleep - and I thought last night was bad! Damn roosters started crowing at about 3AM. And that was after struggling with the self inflating pillow. Stupid pillow - to hard, and the head rolled off it every time I moved. Too soft and the head was at a 45 degree angle while lying on my side - which gave me a sore neck and shoulders. I had gone to bed in just the silk sleeping bag liner, as it was pretty warm on retiring. But by midnight I was cold, and had to find the sleeping bag. Then at 4:30 I was busting for a pee - but couldn't find the head lamp that I had been lent the night before. And with just a hole in the ground, I wasn't going in there without a light. Almost peed my pants looking for the lamp. Finally found it and rushed out of the tent.

On returning, I couldn't see the point in trying to get back to sleep, given that we would have a 5AM wake up "Cooee". So I started packing up my gear. Stuffing the sleeping bag. Stowing the liner. Deflating the self inflating pillow and rolling it up. Deflating the self inflating mattress and rolling it up. Putting all the the sleeping gear into a wet sack (or is it a dry sack? Not sure). Then changing into my hiking clothes. Packing up my sleeping clothes. Packing all the clothes into another wet sack. Putting Canesten cream on my feet to help stop fungal infection. Then socks on, and finally boots on. Then throw wet sacks, snacks, first aid kit, toiletry kit, toilet paper, water bottle and water bladder into the backpack, ready for breakfast. The whole effort took me 45 minutes - will have to get quicker than that.

Breakfast was good - muesli, tinned fruit and coffee. A quick rinse of the plate in the hot water, pack that away, visit the loo (not too stinky), and ready for the daily briefing at 6:15. It is here that we find out what lies ahead for the day. How big the hills are. How long we expect to walk for. Things to watch out for. Etc etc. It looked like a long uphill, but not too steep. "We'll see how good that preparation was" I thought to myself.

The first 45 minutes was easy walking along a wide, mostly flat track to Hoi Village. A nice creek ran through the middle of the village - but they had roosters too, so don't know if I would have slept any better. Then the climb started. It was ridiculous. This was supposed to be a moderately steep climb - nothing like what we will face in the coming days. But it was like climbing a ladder. With slippery steps. And no sides to hang on to. With a 16kg backpack on. And we kept climbing continuously for over an hour...

Finally we stopped for an early morning tea at Deniki Village. And I have to say, it was a welcome stop. Dry biscuits and coffee never tasted so good, as we looked back down along the valley we had just climbed up.

Unfortunately, after morning tea came more climbing. Peter told us that we were powering along, and that usually he would have called 3 rest stops on the climb to Deniki! No wonder I was tired. Then more climbing. And more. And more. About 15 minutes before we got to our lunch spot at Isurava Village, I was really starting to tire. It was really hot. It was really humid. And I was starting to physically tire. It was with relief I saw the village come into sight. But then, another bugaup. The No Roads group that had pinched our camp site the night before, had pinched our lunch spot as well! I have to say I was pretty annoyed. One good thing about Adventure Kokoda who I was with was the great organisation. They booked camping spots and lunch spots to minimise hassles. And to be tired and have No Roads pinch our spot again wound me up. Not so the boys (our porters - we called them the boys). They had simply found us another spot with some shade, lit a fire and had boiling water for tea and coffee ready, along with a lunch of pasta with some sort of tomato sauce, as well as Spam, cheese, meat of some description (bully beef perhaps?) and a boiled potatoe.

I took the boots off while I was eating and aired the feet. I'm determined not to get any blisters or infections on my feet, and airing them felt fantastic. Putting the wet socks back on after lunch wasn't so much fun.

As we were heading off, Peter suggested that because we were such a strong group, and doing so well, we should make a small detour to have a look at a WWII Japanese Navy fighter plane, which had crashed into the mountain. He said it was a bit of a climb, but would be worth it. So, we left our packs with the boys on the track, and started climbing. And what a climb - it made the mornings effort look like the hump on the Harbour Bridge!

My first step up the mountainside resulted in me shoulder charging the dirt, as I only had one trekking pole, with my water bottle in the other hand. So when my feet went from under me - bang - shoulder first into the mountain. I was more careful after that - I didn't relish the thought of falling all the way back down to the track.

The climb took about 30 minutes. In that time we climbed from 4,200 feet to over 5,400 feet! And when you consider that the whole morning we had only climbed from 1,000 feet to 4,200 feet, you can see that the half hour after lunch was STEEP! Funny enough, I did it easy. I don't know if it was the fact I was sucking on Staminade the whole way. Or that I wasn't carrying a pack. Or that I had had a good lunch. But whatever it was, I enjoyed the climb, and wasn't puffing at the top.

The plane was a shredded mess. It must have really gone into the side of the mountain hard. Apart from a bomb, the engine and other heavy parts, most of the plane was unrecognisable. We looked over it for 10 minutes, and headed back down the mountain.

Everyone seemed to find going back down harder than going up. There were about 15 slips/falls on the way down. But I was having a ball. Feeling really strong. Not slipping at all. Almost jumping down the mountain. It was a really good feeling.

At the bottom, it was packs back on, and a sprint to Isurava Village. Still I was feeling strong, and we got to our campsite at 3:30PM. Not bad for a group that had started 45 minutes further back than anticipated in the morning, then done an excursion up the mountain for over an hour.

The tents were set up for us, so we had a quick unpack, then a cold shower (where I also washed my clothes) under a stream of water coming from a small pipe. My back was a little sore after the shower, but the hips were good. There is the start of a little blister on my right heel - but more of a hot spot than a blister. I'm tired, but not buggered. I'm looking forward to dinner and an early night in bed. We're at about 4,500 feet, so tonight will be cool - and I'll definitely be in need of the sleeping bag.

At 4:00, we went down to the memorial for a briefing, and tour of the battleground. So much history. So much suffering. So much courage. It is a sad, soulful, inspiring place.

Dinner was soup and pasta. And I made myself a milo - great stuff! Sam and Paul are starting to open up a bit, and get a bit more chatty. So is Catherine. Alex is still a little reserved, and he seemed to struggle in the afternoon after we'd visited the plane wreck. Still, everyone is getting on well enough. And Peter is starting to tell terrible jokes...

After dinner, the boys lit a fire for us. They then got 5 pieces of wood, and in 20 seconds flat had them woven together to form a chair for Catherine - amazing! We all stood around in the cool night air, holding our wet clothes in front of the fire. It was a still, quiet, cool night. The stars were shining brighter than you would ever see them in Sydney. The fire was crackling. And then the boys started practicing their singing. Their voices were amazing.

The sadness of the place, the boys haunting voices, the beauty of the bush all conspired to bring a tear to a few eyes. It was with a feeling of great completeness that I hit the sack just after 8PM.