Ruth Bishop's Diary Of Her Walk 15th - 24th April 2007
Posted 25 June 2007 - 02:46 PM
Adventure holidays always have to have a starting point from which you begin to plan and look forward to the big day. Ours started about 6 months prior in November 2006 after watching a television programme about the Kokoda Trail.
After seeing the story about it we decided we might like to have a go at walking this famous trail in New Guinea. The very next day we dusted off our Everest boots and walked about 8 kilometres over a varied terrain to set the pace for later training. An hour after we finished this we were almost asleep in the chair from exhaustion. You are never as fit as you think you are!. We'd had all the good advice from every man and his dog (none that have done any more than walk to the shop for the Sunday paper).
We knew it was going to be very hard indeed as we had taped another programme on a special documentary that had been done on three heart patients and every Saturday and Sunday after our walks while we ate breakfast we would watch it to see what the trekkers wore and what they carried and try to see a little of the track to give us more preparation. We checked the Internet for tips and advice from the website on the Kokoda Trekking Group. We also noticed that someone had asked if it was as hard as trekking through the Himalayas. The response to that question was that if you could do that trek then this was going to be okay to do. That gave us a little hope anyway. It had been seven years since we had done the Everest Base Camp trip, so it was a little encouraging to read that.
After several months of walking up and down hills and sand tracks every weekend and I was able to do a 4 kilometre walk every morning before work the big day finally arrived.
What was once a dream had now turned into reality. The fears were there in the mind wondering if we had done enough training. It is all too late now.
The day started out well, as I had to go to work on this historic day just as any other day begins. The girls at work had conspired to get together a little survival pack they thought might come in handy for me on the trail. It consisted of different little "ladies things" they thought I may need for the journey. They are wonderful girls but no idea what we were in for or even what the terrain was going to be like. I was able to get away early from work, as I knew I would be thinking of a million things when I got home that I would need to do or remembered to include in my pack. We finally closed the door and got in the car for the trip up to the airport. It seemed to take forever but we arrived in the usual time to park the car and lug the backpacks into the terminal and check in.
Once check in was completed we were off to the Qantas Lounge for a few well-earned drinks to set the mood to relaxing and enjoy our flight to Cairns. We left Perth Airport at 10.30pm pretty well on time and were due to arrive into Cairns airport in plenty of time to get over to the International Terminal to check in for our New Guinea leg. We had a good flight over and even managed a couple of naps before touching down in Cairns. Couldn't really see much through the plane window, as it was quite early in the morning and not quite light yet. No trouble getting our baggage and getting over to the International Terminal in plenty of time for a coffee and look around the airport. We played a game to see if we could spot anybody that looked likely to be on our trek with us. There were a couple of likely suspects we thought but turned out to be completely wrong of course.
We had a good flight with Air Nuigini and soon touched down in Port Moresby after a lovely breakfast and another nap. On the way all we could see was jungle so it was giving us a good indication on what we had in store for us when we were on the trail. All the mountains looked huge as well and not every much of any flat plains that we could see. We were bundled into a shuttle bus and travelled a very short distance to the Airways Hotel for the night. We had already been advised not to leave the hotel, as it was definitely not safe to travel around Port Moresby on your own. After a short sleep in the most wonderful bed with a delightfully soft doona we went up to the rooftop terrace where they have a lovely bar and dining room with a big swimming pool. There were people there that had obviously already done the trek as they were sporting bandaids and a few were limping. We had a few drinks and a pizza while checking everyone out as usual and then went back to the room to tidy up for the meeting that night over at the Gateway Hotel.
Gail and Russell from Kokoda Trekking were there to greet us and we spent an hour going over a few essentials for the trip and also to get our first ration pack and walking stick for next day. The ration pack consisted of a selection of foods for breakfast, lunch and dinner with snack and lollies thrown in for extras. You wouldn't have been able to eat everything that was in there, so our porters received a little treat each night after going through and sorting out what you wanted to eat the next day. We got a lift back to our hotel with Gail and Russell as even taxis were not to be trusted in Port Moresby. We just decided we would have an early night to be nice a fresh for the start of our adventure tomorrow. I really just wanted to get back into that lovely big bed and enjoy it while I could, remembering that I would be sleeping on the floor from tomorrow onwards for nine nights.
My shower next morning lasted much longer than necessary but I was savouring that as well knowing that was my last shower for nine days. We were picked up early and taken to the small airport where we were catching the flight to Kokoda. By the time everyone was picked up from various hotels in Port Moresby and assembled they realised there was going to be too many for one flight as it all depended on weight as well as space on the plane.
Photograph: A smiling Ruth Bishop as she accepts her 'Certificate of Achievement' from Russell Eroro at the Gateway Hotel.
Posted 25 June 2007 - 04:23 PM
There was smiles all round for five of our trekkers were repeat offenders, and there was much embracing and cheers to see the faces they remembered from the trek they had done two years prior. By the time the rest of the group had arrived it was getting on so we all piled onto the truck to take us to Rusty's Block. Russell helps Gail with the organising of the guides and porters and lives with many large family groups on the village which they call Rusty's block. The place is spotless and there are lovely little gardens planted around the huts.
Photograph: Ruth & Barry Bishop waiting for their flight to Kokoda:
Posted 25 June 2007 - 04:30 PM
Photograph: traditional sing sing welcome to Rusty's Family Block:
Posted 25 June 2007 - 04:33 PM
Tonight consisted of lamb roast with vegetables, mashed potatoes and mint gravy. It sounded really great. The meat is a soy blend, but you can imagine it is meat if you try hard enough. It tasted not too bad considering it came out of a packet with just hot water added. They have a generator in this village so we had light in our guesthouse tonight. I found out much later that there had been quite a large lizard or snake that was lying along the light on the roof and grabbing at the insects as they flew or walked past. We girls didn't know about this creature till much later into the trek so as to avoid a stampede into the sunset by us. I think sleep escaped most of us that first night as I'm sure much was going though our minds as to what was in store for us tomorrow and the many tomorrows to follow. The snores and hard floor wouldn't have helped either.
Photograph: lunch at Rusty's Family Block:
Posted 25 June 2007 - 04:44 PM
Photograph: Group getting ready to move out:
Posted 25 June 2007 - 04:52 PM
I wondered why we were first into the lunch stop, but Barry's porter Davis told us it would only be another 45 minutes walk after lunch till we reached out camp for the night. This was very encouraging to hear as we had recovered somewhat from the morning's very steep climbing by then. The track we were now walking on continued in the same condition from start to finish. Tree roots covered the track particularly going up the mountains in hard clay soil, which quickly turned to mud as soon as the rain fell. When we travelled downhill it was the same tree roots but now very slippery and just waiting to catch an unsuspecting ankle to twist. It was extremely hard on the knees as well with the constant jolting with every downward step. My trusty Moses stopped me several times from slipping over and because he was holding my hand I actually held him up a few times as well. It was a good arrangement all round we found.
Photograph: Taking time out for a break during their first day of trekking:
Posted 25 June 2007 - 05:00 PM
They didn't seem to take offence that you were filling up their holes so we weren't bothered at all. Bees at this stage seemed to be the least of my worries. The smell is horrendous but that is life in the village, so who are we to complain about a little smell. We can go home to our flush toilets with lovely toilet spray if necessary. Creepy crawlies weren't even on my list of priorities and that was definitely saying something about me. I had checked out the accommodation and didn't find anything that was going to "get me", so didn't lose sleep over looking for creatures. Apparently Barry told me much later he had seen lots of spiders and other creatures that would have had me scurrying for the hills, but thankfully I must have had other things on my mind to bother about looking for them.
We went to bed after collecting our ration packs and going through them to give our leftovers to Moses and David. The ration packs are full of goodies and would cater to everyone's taste, but I seem to have left my appetite at home, which is very unlikely for me. There were chocolate bars for trading for beef jerky, or muesli bars for hot chocolate drinks. There is always something that can be traded and we can still have a decent feed all day.
We slept on bamboo slats tonight, so I thought they would have to be softer than wooden planks. I don't suppose you can sleep uninterrupted when you're in a strange place and have been walking all day, so you continually doze till its time to get up. It's enough to refresh the mind and body for the next day's adventures anyway. There is plenty of enthusiasm and energy, as we get ready for the day's walk. I didn't really want to look at maps each morning to see what we would be travelling over during the day. It didn't really matter if it was going to be uphill or downhill for the day, as it still has to be traversed, so I would just face the terrain as it occurred. Up early for day two as we are going to the War Memorial at Isurava to hold the ceremony for the lost soldiers on the track.
The guides and porters had been collecting greenery and flowers along the track as we walked to make up posies for the ceremony. They take these ceremonies very seriously and maybe don't get to travel here all the time, so take the opportunity when they can. The village people are busy getting the gardens and walls cleaned up for the following week for Anzac Day celebrations that will be held there. The place looks immaculate anyway as they take so much pride in their surroundings. After a few photos we gathered around the memorial while the Papuans sang the national anthem, which put our pathetic effort afterwards to shame. They sang with such pride and feeling it bought a few tears to our eyes. Robbo, (our leader) gave a moving speech and the flowers and posy's were placed lovingly against the stone monuments, which read about the Courage, Sacrifice, Mateship and Endurance of all who fought in the awful war in these mountains of New Guinea.
It is because of them stopping the Japanese from arriving on Australia's doorstep and invading our country that we enjoy the freedom that we all take for granted these days. After the sombre and moving speeches we gathered around and had a drink and something to eat and put our backpacks on and carried on for the day again till lunchtime. As hard as this track is going to be, it will not be as bad as the diggers had it over 60 years ago with virtually no food, diseases, carrying guns and ammunition with not much training in combat and the conditions of the land they were trying to keep hold of.
The track in some places resemble not much more than a goat track up the hill, so I am constantly amazed at how the fuzzy wuzzy angels guided the wounded and sick soldiers to safety.
Photograph: Isurava Monument Area:
Posted 25 June 2007 - 05:06 PM
My right knee has started to play up a bit and I am hoping and praying it holds for another 6 days. I have never had any problems with them before so I am very disappointed that it is troubling me with the training I did. It's just the constant jolting and the amount of times I have had to put all my weight on one leg while lowering myself down to the next level going downhill. Also when I step out to put my foot down most times I am stepping into midair and just hope I don't slide too much and wrench the knees any further. I think I need another 30 centimetres on each leg then I could just walk normally down the hills like everyone else who has longer legs. But Moses keeps telling me I don't have to go faster, just take it easy and we will finish every day okay. I have put all my faith in a 16-year-old boy it seems, as I listen to what he tells me to do.
So far Barry and I have been into camp first in the afternoons both days. I think our porters think we are either fit or they are trying to kill us off so we can be evacuated out and make life easier for them. I think they are testing us to see what we're made of, and obviously if we can get into camp early then they can relax longer as well. Myola Creek campsite is a very steep climb up from the raging torrent. The bridges are very interesting and so far nobody has fallen in the river. It is thundering over rocks and sounds very angry, but looks magnificent watching the water cascading over the rocks and falling into little eddies close to the edge. To say that the bridges would be passed by Safety Sam would be a joke as they are just a couple of logs tied together with vines and when we arrive the guides string along a rope and physically hold it in place while we cross. Seems to work okay and makes for great photo opportunities.
Moses nearly came to grief though today as he threw over his machete (long bush knife) across the river only to watch it annoyingly slither down the rocks to fall into the torrent below. Nothing for it but to strip down and jump in to try to retrieve the very important knife. If not I'm sure he would have got a bollocking from Ernest (the head porter), so jumping in the raging water would have been an easy option. After feeling around with his feet and luckily enough without cutting his foot off he found the offending knife and shouted victoriously as he immerged from the river shaking with relief and cold. After all the excitement died down it was back on with the packs and up the very steep climb into camp. Barry's porter David said he didn't like this stretch of the track as it was very steep in places and I can well believe him as I very nearly managed to pull both myself and Moses down the side of the mountain a couple of times.
Photograph: one of the many river crossings on the Kokoda Track:
Posted 25 June 2007 - 05:08 PM
Dinner tonight is spaghetti bolognaise and I am actually looking forward to eating it right now in fact, but a few snakes will have to suffice till dinnertime I guess. Sounds delicious, pity there is no garlic bread to soak up the juices. Well you can't have everything I suppose and we do have good company and a wonderful view from where we are sitting eating it.
Last night dinner was beef curry and it so happened we had beef noodles in our pack, so the whole lot went in with the dinner and it went down quite nicely. Even had custard for dessert as well. We are eating well from our ration packs by dehydrated food standards anyway. Today was the worst day for me so far. We walked for a total of 9 and ˝ hours. It was pure agony for me. We started at 7am and walked and climbed to Templeton 1 for the morning break and by then I was almost crippled. It was only about 10 o'clock in the morning so I still had a few more hours to walk today. I did a few exercises to loosen up the leg and knee muscles and off we went up higher and higher to the lunchtime stop.
To walk downhill now was torturous but as soon as we reached Alola village for lunch I took off my boots and dried my feet out a bit and to try and relax the muscles as much as I could. Going uphill didn't seem to affect them, but as soon as I took a step down the leg just wanted to throw in the towel. I found if I kept up the stretching exercises I could get a few more kilometres out of it, so every so often I had my leg up on a log and looking very unladylike stretching my leg as much as possible while we let other trekkers go past. After lunch the walk started at the top of Mount Bellamy and I knew from seeing this stretch on the documentary that it wasn't going to be a nice walk this afternoon. We stopped for a few minutes to look out over the valleys below then it was ever upward again.
I have mentioned once or twice that this track is unbelievable and it would have been amazing to see the fuzzy wuzzy angels at work guiding the sick and wounded and delivering supplies to the diggers along the track. All too soon as we had climbed then we had to ascend the hill on the other side. It started to rain about 1 o'clock and as it was only light rainfall we continued on without putting on our ponchos. Very soon we would regret this decision as it started to rain heavier and heavier by the minute and soon we were drenched to the skin. The rain did not stop till the next morning after this, so it wasn't a pleasant day wondering through the mountains of New Guinea. We finally reached our campsite very wet, very cold and very tired around 5.30pm. As I walked into camp I was handed a large cup of straight overproof rum to drink to warm my insides. It tasted wonderful and even today I would say it was scotch I was drinking it tasted just delicious and did warm my insides considerably.
Photograph: Campsite on the track
Posted 25 June 2007 - 05:12 PM
Breakfast, packing up again and doing the ablutions dodging the raindrops didn't take long at all. It did stop raining by the time we set off for the day and it was just beautiful and clean everywhere with the sun glistening off the wet leaves and of course the mud under foot. This mud is amazing stuff. It looks like a big tub of chocolate and very greasy and slippery at each step we take today. Today is only a 5-hour walk for which I was most grateful to hear. I did more stretching this morning in preparation for the downhill sections, but it didn't really help the knee too much. It's only another few days and surely it can hold out till then. I would much rather be walking up the mountains than trying to negotiate the downhills. My motto from now on is to take each step that will be us closer to the finish.
After more muddy trails and another uphill steep climb we arrived in Kagi in plenty of time to enjoy the afternoon. We had lunch and erected our tent under the guesthouse for shelter in case it rained again and also to dry it out from yesterday. The guesthouse is not large enough for us all to sleep in so Barry chose to sleep in the tent. There were laundry lines springing up everywhere while we tried to dry the sleeping bags and mattresses and a few clothes. We showered out in the open again behind a wooden screen open to the jungle again one side very quickly as the water is quite cold. You are still virtually standing in mud, so really it's only the body and legs that get a quick clean. I found it quite unusual that we haven't had to visit the toilet during the day while on the track. Of course we are drinking litres of water during the day, but as fast as you're drinking it you are leaking it out of every pore in your body as well.
About an hour after you start each day you are dripping with sweat, but it doesn't feel hot to me. I'm sure in my case it is pure fear and exertion that makes me sweat. I've even had to take my glasses off and walk without them each day as they just fog up as soon as we start each morning. I have been able to see enough to get me out of trouble, but couldn't read anything to save my life. It's just as well I don't go to the toilet as often as I do at home as the toilet in this village is a treacherous trek on it's own down a hill of very slippery grass. When I did go for a visit I could hear what I thought was baby chickens squeaking, but apparently it was some puppies inside the structure of thatch that made up the walls and roof of this toilet.
A few days before another trekker had paid a visit but the mother dog had bitten the lady on the leg, no doubt trying to protect her pups. After this we were asked to get a porter to check out the toilet before we went in case the dog was still there. Later that day we heard on the radio which the porters carried with us that this woman was trying to be evacuated out by helicopter as she was suffering a fever and the bite area behind her knee was swollen. We were listening to the conversation between the patient who by this time was in another village further on the track and Gail in Kokoda who was trying to get the helicopter in to rescue this woman. As I mentioned before the clouds descend low over the hills, so it is quite dangerous for the pilot to be out flying and trying to land in this terrain.
After several minutes of dialogue we really did think this woman just wanted off the mountain at any cost. We heard later she was admitted to hospital and was put on a drip overnight and released next day. A very costly venture all round I'd say. I hope she was insured for such an eventuality as we were told you pay the cost of the flight out if you're evacuated for any reason. Tonight we are in for a treat as we are having a feast made for us by the porters with fresh vegetables from the village and meat from the boy's food packs. At dinnertime we enjoyed a lovely meal of bully beef and choko leaves with some wonderful tasting sweet potatoes along with noodles. Also another dish with greens and tuna I suspect from our packs that we had given them. It was a superb meal and I thoroughly enjoyed it and finished off with my two fruit pack.
The kids had a ball this afternoon playing with the bubble packs that were given them and the balloons and lollies we all gave them. Even the adults liked receiving the lollies. I did think a few times when I was handing out lollies to the children that I hoped none of them had diabetes or any sugar related diseases. There are no hospitals in these villages and the only source of any medication it seems is through Dan who is one of the repeat offenders handing out Panadol and simple medication to the responsible person in the village to dispense them as they saw fit. Apparently Dan had seen at first hand the needs if these villagers when he came through the first time and made sure he brought enough to hand out throughout the trek. What a wonderful and caring person he is. Each evening when we finished the days walk both he and Alissa who is another repeat walker would spend many hours tending to the blisters and sore spots our porters would have from the days walk as well.
Photograph: Kagi Village:
Posted 25 June 2007 - 05:14 PM
Photograph: our Kokoda Trekking (KTL) porters singing away and playing their uke'ule:
Posted 25 June 2007 - 05:19 PM
Photograph: Kagi Village:
Posted 25 June 2007 - 05:21 PM
Just after this we came across some trekkers coming from the other direction and it was a bit tricky getting past on the narrow track. It is only about 30 centimetres wide at the moment and is quite steep in places. I'm glad we are going downhill for a change because it is extremely steep in places. How they got stretchers around some of the areas is really amazing. I cannot get the thought of the diggers, doing this 60 years ago out of my mind. The mud isn't so bad here but the steepness of the decline is very treacherous and seems to be going on forever. I really wouldn't have liked to be climbing up this mountain. Even the porters from the other trek were puffing a bit and that is saying something. Everyone exchanges pleasantries as you pass and wish each other good luck for the rest of the day's walk. Gosh when will we ever reach the river crossing as we have been hearing the torrent for hours is seems.
Photograph: Scenery during this day's walk:
Posted 25 June 2007 - 05:24 PM
After getting the washing done and showers over we watch the game and talk to the children and adults in the village while handing out lollies to them. They are such a happy and contented race and even the gift of a lolly makes them break out into a huge smile for us. The children have sores on their legs but we do not hear any complaints from them and Michelle and Jessica have delighted them with some stick on earrings. Not knowing whether some of them were boys or girls they came up with the solution of wearing them on their hands, which delighted them all. No doubt they would have protested at bath time about washing them off for days. We were hoping for a pig for dinner tonight but they hadn't managed to catch one so it's Thai chicken curry for tea instead. The compound we are staying in is really beautiful and clean and there is lawn everywhere to sit and enjoy the afternoon sun.
Towards evening another trek comes in and sets up camp not far from us in the compound. We were talking to them about their trek so far and it seems the company they are with have not provided much in the way of food for them. For breakfast they are given cracker biscuits with peanut paste. Not really a staple meal for big burly men to walk on. They were amazed at our rations and the cost of our trip even as most had paid double for the pleasure they were not really enjoying so far. Made us feel good about the choice we made with the trekking company. Both Barry and I are feeling pretty well so far considering it has been quite tough going. David and Moses have already told us that we will make it to the end. Probably using a bit of phsycology on us but I had already decided I was not going to give in and it has never entered my head that it was too hard.
After the usual sing a long we all went to bed very contented and happy on our soft beds. Tomorrow we have another 5-hour day but I keep looking at that huge hill we have to climb just to get out of this valley and just shake my head. I have been doing really well going uphill, but keep hoping I can still keep up with the younger crowd. Most of the time now I tell Barry and David to go ahead and not walk with me as it makes me feel pressured to go faster with them around. They happily go off at their own pace and I'm sure Moses would love to go with them, but his job is to look after me the poor kid.
Photograph: Efogi Village Guesthouse:
Posted 25 June 2007 - 05:26 PM
Down the hill where we are is was about a two and a half hour walk and up another hill and around the top of that hill before our stop for the day. This downhill stretch can only be described as if you can imagine a greasy wall and you were trying to walk down it with a pair of flat plastic thongs on, then you’d have an idea what it is like. It was extremely arduous and my knee and leg let me down on many occasions today. All I could do was stretch the muscles to give it some relief to get me another few yards each time. It helped enormously and I thanked old Grumpy (Shane) for his good advice. Barry and David went on ahead which took the pressure off me to keep up with them. Moses and I just plodded along steadily, but even so it was an awfully long morning.
There were a lot of other trekkers coming in the other direction and they had an awful uphill trek ahead of them. It was great to give and get lots of encouragement from them all as we are all in the same boat. Moses nearly slipped over a few times and said, "Lucky I was holding onto to you". He is starting to open up a bit now and tells me about his family and life in the village.
The poor kid, he must have drawn the short straw to be lumbered with me, but I think he likes me as I told him I would buy him a pair of KT26's (they have lots of tread) as his sneakers are nearly flat and have no traction. He was pleased with that and told me his shoe size immediately. It is the least I can do for him as he has looked after me very well indeed.
The bridge was down across the river so we had to detour down the side of the mountain. It's quite scary as its still very greasy and very narrow with nothing but the raging torrent below on one side and a wall on the other side.
Photograph: Group Pic at Brigade Hill
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