Thursday, August 27, 2009

Day 4 - Isurava Memorial > Alola Village > Abuari Village

That damned pillow! I just can't get it right. Either too low, or my head rolling off it, or both! So, another night of really broken sleep. It was a bit colder last night too, but the sleeping bag seems to be doing the job ok.

Because of the pillow, I again woke early. 4:40AM today. I lay there trying to get back to sleep without luck. So at 5:20 I gave up and got up for a wee. Back at the tent, I started packing my gear, determined to do it a bit quicker than yesterday. The wake-up "cooee" was at the standard time of 5:30, and I kept packing. At 5:45 I was almost done, when Peter called out to say we were heading down to the memorial for the dawn service.

I quickly threw on my clothes, which were still wet from washing them the night before. It wasn't as bad as I expected. With skins and trousers on, I threw on the crocs and raced down to the memorial, putting the wet shirt on as I ran. It was a cold morning, and I expected the wet clothes to be worse than what they were. Within 5 minutes I hardly noticed them.

Maybe that had something to do with the solemn occasion. At the memorial, Peter said a few words, then read a poem written by one of the diggers back in '42 - Sergeant Bede Tongs. It was about Private Bruce Kingsbury VC, who died not 20m from where we now stood, as he single handedly changed the course of the battle.

What do you say to a dying man?

What do you day to a dying man,
Do you call him Bob, or Digger, or Mate?
As you look down at the face you knew so well,
And the look in his eyes says, "It's late",
You remember your first hand-shake,
On a troop train going to war,
Training in various military camps,
Wallgrove, Greta, Ingleburn, Bathurst and more,
To have tired muscles,
To go hungry. Thirsty
And the pub - the Duke of York
Where we had our last beers
Before leaving Australia's fair shores.

A fleeting sad glimpse of his loved ones,
You knew that from being his friend,
And you know that if you happen to survive this onslaught,
They will surely ask you of his life's end.
Just three minutes ago he was so full of life,
Firing his bren from the hip,
The platoon attacking as it had many times before,
When all of a sudden - he's hit!
A Japanese sniper, so deadly,
Fires from a dark weapon pit,
And my best mate falls close to my feet.

"Tell them I tried" he said,
My words of goodbye froze on my lips.

by Sergeant Bede Tongs

After the reading, the boys sang a most haunting traditional song/hymn, followed by their national anthem. Dawn was just breaking, the sun rising. We were looking at the battlefield. The boys voices were uplifting. It was a scene of unbelievable beauty. More tears flowed. The trekkers then sang our national anthem. With choked voices, after the inspirational tones of the boys, we sounded pathetic. No-one cared. We weren't there for us. We were there to remember the sacrafices of those who went before us. Those who gave so much so that we might enjoy Australia today. We embraced the boys, and all walked slowly back up the hill for breakfast...

After the now standard breakfast of muesli, coffee and canned fruit, we were once again on our way at about 7:00AM. Up a steep hill, we surveyed more of the Isurava battleground. It is one thing to read about the battle, and look at the maps, but they just can't convey the ruggedness of the terrain, the placement of Front and Back Creek, the positions of the men. From there, past Back Creek along a relatively flat section, where there is a diamond shaped rock on the side of the track. It turns out that this is the rock that the doctors used as their operating table - amputating hands, arms, legs, stitching up torsos. Unimaginable in today's warm, peaceful surroundings.

After that it was downhill - WOOHOO! But, boy, was it steep. Some ups and downs, then down another really steep section. Morning tea in a village, then down a bit more to a river crossing and an early lunch. The water was flowing quickly, but it was too good an opportunity to miss - we stripped down to skins (sports bra and shorts for Catherine) and jumped in the water, with the lunch table set up just meters away. The water was FREEZING! I put my head under and washed some of the sweat out of my hair - no-one else was silly enough to get more than their body wet. It sure cooled the body, and put us in a great frame of mind for the next section. It was sad to leave such a beautiful location. The river, the mountains, the outlook , the stillness of the place was magnificent.

The next section - a damned great steep uphill! We were on another track that not many groups visit - Japs Track. This was the track that the Japs tried to send troops down to outflank the diggers at Isurava. The 53rd stopped them - but not well.

We hiked along the ridge, then had another downhill to a huge waterfall. This is where a group of Aussie officers were ambushed - there were still Australian water bottles sitting on the side of the creek. A beautiful, but sad place. You could almost see the officers bending down to fill their water bottles, and shots ringing out killing them in their tracks.

Of course, after any downhill, you know there is going to be an almighty uphill, and we weren't dissapointed. Only this time, because we were on a little used track, the uphill clinged to the side of the mountain, and was crumbling away under our feet. Behind us was a drop of hundreds of meters - not a place for those scared of heights. Yep - I'm scared of heights. And with the footholds crumbling underneath me, I've got to admit I was worried.

Then another climb up another damn great hill, until we arived at Abuari Village. It was hot. It was steamy. We had done some big hills during the day. And I was more than pleased to see we'd arrived. But the village is pretty big, so it took another five minutes to reach our campsite at 2:30. And what a feast awaited us. A huge spread of mandarins and passionfruit sat on a table decorated with ferns and flowers.

We quickly unpacked, and sat down to some of the best tasting fruit I've ever experienced. Then, to top it off, the villagers brought us plates of donuts! Not the light ones that we are used to with suger, but flowery, heavy ones. No matter - after our diet of pasta, they were delicious. Then out came the scones. Then out came some rolls. Then out came some biscuits! We stuffed outselves silly. I don't think I've ever felt so full.

Which was good timing for a shower. As usual, there was no shower rose, just a stream of water. But there were mens and ladies showers, and the mens was surrounded by 3 sides, with the 4th side looking out across the valley. It was an amazing view as I soaped myself up. Then, the water stopped! I was covered from head to toe in soap - and no water! I turned the tap off and waited. A small trickle after a couple of minutes. It took 10 minutes of this before I had enough soap off to risk getting out.

No sooner had I got out and dressed, and the water returned. So Paul jumped in the shower, while I used the nearby tap to wash my clothes.

We both went back to the hut to eat more fruit, where we found Catherine sitting looking out over the valley. "I could see you in the shower" she said to Paul. "But I didn't look". Sure enough, from the hut you could see right into the shower. I wonder how long she had been sitting there "not looking". Hmmmmm.

Catherine has actually become quite chatty. It turns out that she has a sore ankle - apparently she sprained it about 10 weeks ago, and it is just a little niggle for her at the moment. Alex has been quiet. He has a churning gut. I know how he feels - mine started churning today as well. Sam has started coming out of his shell (and has pulled a ligament behind his knee), and Paul has a fantastic laugh, which we tend to hear often during the day.

The usual dinner was followed by some great banter in the "Drying Hut". This is a hut that Charlie Lynn (the owner of Adventure Kokoda) has had many of the villages erect. It is a hut with 1/3 open sides, with 2 fires, and poles or ropes to hang wet clothes on and dry over the fires. Being a small group, there was plenty of room for all our clothes. Everyone was very chatty, and Alex took on Peter in another game of chess. It turns out that Peter is just learning, but he has been learning for about 17 years now. Poor Alex keeps getting beaten...

All the clothes were dry before we went to bed at 8, which after this morning I was very pleased about. Tonight I stuffed my dry clothes back into the wet sack, and used that as a pillow. A bit higher and a bit softer. Hope I sleep better tonight.