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Ruth Bishop's Diary Of Her Walk 15th - 24th April 2007


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#16 Boss Meri

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Posted 25 June 2007 - 05:27 PM

The Papuans have a saying if you don't make it or fall over badly.  It's "Bugger-up Finish".   I loved the sound of that one and constantly thought it to myself many times.  They don't swear so we were told at the briefing in Port Moresby, not to swear in front of the porters, or to say it under our breath.  I love the bridges of logs and ropes and so far no Bugger-up finishes to report.   We had to wade through this one though.  Off with the boots and walk through the water with my sore bare feet.  I welcomed the lovely cool water but not the sharp rocks I encountered on the riverbed.  It was up the other side and now only 30 minutes to camp.  We managed to get our boots back on and were climbing up the hill when another porter from another company asked Moses if he could take our picture.  

I don't know why (maybe he knew Moses and wanted to tease him with the picture of the old woman he had to look after). Anyway all of a sudden Moses puts his arm around my shoulders for the photo.  I thought he has finally accepted me as they don't normally take advantage and put their arms around you.  Even when they have to push or pull you up a hill they are very respectful, so I was very glad of the arm around my shoulder.  It was a sweet gesture on his part I thought.  He tells me more about his family and says he has 3 sisters and 2 brothers.  His two brothers Thomas and Joseph are porters as well and he said we would meet one coming the other way today maybe.    His sister's names are Keti, Mary and Theresa.  His father died in 2000, so I suppose the family had to get together and look after each other, as there is no welfare office in the jungle.

Photograph:  me and my fellow trekkers at Brigade Hill:

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#17 Boss Meri

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Posted 25 June 2007 - 05:32 PM

It seems it is definitely going to be more than 30 minutes to camp and my blister was playing up a bit inside my sock as the plaster had gone somewhere in the river crossing probably.  It was a sight for sore eyes I can tell you when we finally arrived in camp.  It was 2.45pm so I was hoping for the sun to stay up a little longer to dry our clothes and warm our bones.  It is quite cool under the canopy of the jungle and I haven't found the humidity a problem as yet.  I felt almost human again after a shower in the freezing water in yet another wooden shelter and a hot chocolate inside me.  We are having chicken curry for dinner tonight and I'm quite hungry.  It is in this village of Menari that we meet the boss boy of the supply company that carried the gear to the diggers during the war.  

When we first arrived I walked past him sitting there on a log and actually gave him a lolly from my pocket.  A little while later he must have gone inside his hut to change into his best coat for the occasion because he was having his photograph taken with us for the princely sum of 10 kina a person.  He must have been well into his eighties and was very wizened up but still could tell stories and horrors of the war that took place over 60 years before.  He was still very much alert and very happy with life.  Who wouldn't be, as he must have just collected about 130 kina from us?  He could live pretty well for many weeks on that.  

Barry, Ken, Barbie and Dan have gone for a walk around the village to no doubt give out some medications, or to see to the needs of anyone hurt.  They came back with a horror story of a woman who has been bleeding in her urine for about two months now and is obviously in much pain.  Dan was quite beside himself with worry for this woman as the husband had run after them to tell of her plight.  Dan figured this man must have offended the rest of the village in some way as they usually help each other where possible and no one had helped on this occasion.  All Dan could do was offer some anti-biotic tablets and collect some food for her, so she could get out to the highway, which we were informed was about a half a days walk away.  

Then maybe she could get a lift to a major town for hospital treatment.  Having tended this woman Dan did not hold out much hope and it bothered him that there is just not any health facilities in the villages along the track.  He knows it is the way of life here, but it doesn't make you feel any happier that these people can die for lack of treatment.  It just wouldn't happen in our country.  It really brings home to you that these villages are really in the third world as far as basic essentials go.  

We are in for another treat tonight as the village has offered to put on a concert for us (for a price of course).  The villagers are mostly Seventh Day Adventist along the track, so that accounts for the lack of meat they consume.  Because they do not eat meat products the children have all got a bulging tummy, which is a result of not enough protein in their diet.  They are still happy though and live with the knowledge that this is how it is with them because of their belief.  I feel very sorry for some I see, as they just do not have any hope in life, but their faith in religion holds them strong.  It really is amazing to watch these people.  We do not mind in the least to part with some money to have a concert in our honour.  This is the only way they have of surviving every day.  

They will sell you cans of soft drink and fruit and share anything else they have, so we are only too happy give them a few kina along the way.  It doesn't look like charity that way, but I would have given them much more if I had it.  But on the other hand you can't be seen to give them too much as they will rely on it with future trekkers and it will introduce the begging attitude.  We all gather around in the darkening night while the villagers arrange themselves in a group to present their concert.  It is really just religious hymns they are singing from their church services, but they have such clear and sweet voices and such innocence about them we enjoy the songs with the children joining in.  After their concert we decided to sing them a few songs of our own that we had been singing along the track.  

The guides had butchered the song about Old MacDonald's farm and it brought laughter from the villagers and us as we sung it to them.  They giggled at the words and noises of the animals from Old Macca Donnell had a farm.  They all love to sing and have good voices, so we have a very enjoyable evening.  After the sing a long Dan starts to tease the children with lollies and has them running in all directions trying to catch them as they grab them from the bench behind his back.  He is very good with the kids and they all had a wonderful time, so all the worries of the trek and village life are forgotten for a few hours of fun.  All too soon it was time for the mothers to drag the children kicking and screaming home to their beds and reality once again.  

Photograph: Menari Village:

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#18 Boss Meri

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Posted 25 June 2007 - 05:34 PM

We are up early this morning as we're leaving at 6am as soon as its light enough for us to see the track.  The four of us left earlier than the others but it doesn't take long for them to catch us up.  Poor Moses, Ernest and I are the stranglers again and brought up the rear after letting Barry, David and the others go ahead.  The track was just as every other day with steep inclines and even steeper declines just for me, but we are in for a surprise today.  We get to swim across the river this time as it is quite wide and has a very strong current.  By the time we reached the Brown River we were looking forward to a "swim" to cool down.  

What an adventure this was for us all.  It was a raging torrent as usual and we had to hang on to the porters who were hanging onto to the ropes that were strung across in case we were washed away.  It took 2 people in most cases to get us across because of the current but on my trip there were three of us holding onto poor Ernest who was bravely clinging to the ropes.  What a lot of fun it was though and of course the adrenalin was running high by this time as well.  It made for a great photo shoot by the others who had reached the other side by then.  We set off once again with the three of us bring up the rear.  It was amazing just watching the porters literally running down the hill with no fear of falling over and breaking legs or arms.  Slipping and sliding is the order of the day today as everyone has mud on their bottoms as they pass in either direction.  

Photograph:  Nauro River Crossing:

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#19 Boss Meri

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Posted 25 June 2007 - 05:36 PM

None on mine yet but then again I am that slow that I haven't had a chance to fall over, but I am constantly reminded it isnít a race and we will eventually arrive in camp.  When we climbed up yet another steep hill Moses stopped me and pointed to the mountain in the distance and showed me the gap in the horizon and casually mentioned that was where we had come from.  I asked "how many days ago" and he answered "this morning".  I was really impressed with that and straightened the shoulders a bit and carried on.  He also said that we had conquered "The Wall" already, so I was really happy about that as well.  I had seen this wall on the documentary and wasn't looking forward to climbing down it.  They were really trying to keep up our spirits but I was happy just knowing that we had climbed yet another hill and descended another valley closer to our destination.  We arrived in camp about 1.30pm and after a tricky climb down to the river had a wash and feel quite human again.  Went to sleep with the sounds of the boys singing again.

Photograph:  Ruth and her porter Moses:

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#20 Boss Meri

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Posted 25 June 2007 - 05:39 PM

Today we have to do two sections of the trek, so we can have the guesthouse at the camp tonight.  If not we will have to walk extra on the last day, so we are all for walking the extra distance today.  It turned out to be a horror day for me.  It ended up being a 10 and Ĺ hour walk for me and every move was very painful even stopping regularly to stretch the legs and knee.  We meet many trekkers coming in both directions today as we walk through swamp like conditions.  Didn't seem any different to what we had been walking through any other day, but I was told it was a swampy part of the trek also it is a bit flatter than normal.  The mud reached up to your ankles and threatened to suck the boots off your feet.  Whenever you lifted your feet you had another kilogram on each leg as the mud was encrusted all round the boot. Is this fun or what?  

We pass a few village people who are humping huge packages on their heads and on their backs and carrying the odd child as well.  I can't believe the speed they move at with all that baggage.  I suppose they are used to it though as they'd probably been doing it all their lives.  Later on we caught up with the same group and they were having a picnic lunch sitting on a log in the jungle.  Nice place to have a picnic lunch I called out to them and they laughed merrily and sent us on our way with huge smiles and waves even from the children.  So simple these folk, yet so happy with their way of life.  I think we could all take a note out of their book and rethink our situations at times of stress and feeling hard done by.  

Photograph:  Ruth and some their KTL porters

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#21 Boss Meri

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Posted 25 June 2007 - 05:42 PM

Many times we have to stop to let other trekkers go on ahead or let them pass, and our little group of Moses, Ernest, Nelson and I (yes I have picked up another guide as well) are getting further behind the rest of our group.  When we finally made the lunch stop we only really had time to have a cup of tea and a quick feed.  As luck would have it I had 5 packs of beef jerky in my pack, so I handed out a packet to each of the boys, as they weren't getting any lunch either.  About 11.30 this morning Moses tummy was protesting at the lack of food then, and this was about 1.30 now.  I felt bad about holding them up, but they didn't complain and I was able to give out lollies as well along the track.  I got to meet a few of the other trekkers along the way, so we always had a chat after that whenever we met up again.  I didn't stop much unless it was to let other pass, so I got my little breaks that way without holding everybody up all the time.  

Ernest told me as we set off that it would only be one hour walking to the camp site now, but I asked if that was my walking pace or his.  He assures me it was my pace, so off we went down another steep decline.  The knee was really bothering me by this stage and every movement was extremely painful then all of a sudden it wouldn't hurt at all and I would try to move a bit faster till the next burst of pain.  Sometimes it was that bad that Moses and Ernest had to lift me down the steep sections.  I knew it can't be anything really serious or it would be painful all the time, so that gave me a bit of encouragement anyway.  There is only tomorrow to get through somehow and that was it.  I can't believe it has gone so quickly really.  An hour came and went and thought it can't be too far now.  If Ernest had said 3 hours it wouldn't have bothered me, but saying only an hour and after each hour passed I was getting annoyed with him and myself for saying it.  

We've passed by a section where a trekker from one year ago passed away on the track.  He collapsed further down the hill but as a helicopter had to come a retrieve the body he was carried back up the hill to flat ground then the porters set about clearing enough trees for the helicopter to land.  The boys then erected the man's tent and sat up with him all night till the morning when he was picked up and taken back to Moresby.  The Papuans then made a little garden where he actually died and another at the top of the hill in his memory.  His porter was on our trek and I wondered if it effected him much coming this way again.  Apparently they had a ceremony for the man earlier on today as the rest of them stopped to honour him and place flowers on the site.  Ernest was telling me about it while we were walking and I can imagine it would have been difficult for the boys at the time.  They are very caring and sensitive boys even though they try to act macho for us at times.

Photograph: Ruth and Ernst pause to pay their respects, it was one year in May since Ian lost his life:

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#22 Boss Meri

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Posted 25 June 2007 - 05:44 PM

Nine creek river crossings later and we finally made it into camp at 3.45pm very tired and very relieved to see everybody.  Moses said not to bother taking off my boots and he would make sure that they would be dry for tomorrow.  When I walked into camp they had a lovely fire going with everybody's boots around it drying out so I added mine to the circle as well.  Barry had waited two hours for me to get in and wouldn't go and wash till I arrived safe and sound.  We headed off down the steep embankment to the river and sat in the water, which was flowing around me like a spa.  A bit chilly but certainly revitalised the body again.  With clean clothes and a drink inside me I felt almost normal again except the knee was giving me a bit of pain.  I asked Alissa later if she would tell me the best way to massage it, but she asked me to wait till she had finished her tea and she would do it for me.  I felt bad about this as she had just finished doing the boys and hadn't had a chance to relax herself yet, but she assured me she was happy to do it for me, for which I was really grateful.  

Photograph: our boots drying out around a campfire:

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#23 Boss Meri

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Posted 25 June 2007 - 05:46 PM

It helped it no end and I felt as though I was going to finish this trek in one piece after all.  Dinner tonight was honey soy chicken, which tasted pretty good considering we didn't have any lunch.  I felt very sorry for the boys as they didn't have any lunch either and didn't get to eat their dinner till about 6pm.  Poor Moses' tummy by this stage would have thought his throat had been cut.   We are treated again to the sounds of the boys singing and playing the ukulele and so often along the track as well.  Nelson had his today and it was so uplifting to hear him singing along the way today.  Next morning I couldn't find my boots and looked everywhere for them, only to discover that Moses had come over during the night to put them by their fire to dry them out for me.  What a guy.  Up early and standing around waiting to head off for the day and I heard Wallace telling one of the boys to tell Moses that Mum was ready to go.  That's not exactly how he said it, but that was the gist of what he said.  I laughed out loud and Wallace realised that I had understood what he had said and that brought peals of laughter from all around the camp by then.  

Photograph: sitting around the campfire with our KTL boys singing and playing their uke'ule's:

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#24 Boss Meri

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Posted 25 June 2007 - 05:47 PM

After getting up each morning we would pack up our gear and give it over to Moses and David so they could arrange their stuff in our pack as well for the day.  Barry and I had this worked out quite well and always had our packs ready early for the boys.  As soon as it was light we headed off up the steep incline above the camp. We had even more creek crossings this morning before we headed uphill again, so we only wore our sandals for the time being.  I had another pair from my backpack, but Moses was so worried about the pair I usually wore as they usually hung on the outside of the back along side his thongs.  Because I wore a different pair I put the others in the backpack, but Moses thought I might have left them back in camp.  He really does look after me well.  Along came Alissa and Tony and some porters in tow coming through the water instead of around the bank, and she asked how my knee was.  I answered that it was okay and she asked if I wanted another massage.  I could have killed for one at this stage, but said it was okay for now and didnít want to hold anyone up.  I regretted this decision as soon as I had uttered it, but as we got around another bend in the river there was Alissa and Tony and some guides and she ordered me to sit on a log.  

Photograph:  my boots getting a workout:

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#25 Boss Meri

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Posted 25 June 2007 - 05:50 PM

Before I could get to the log Moses had dashed off and came back with a pile of leaves so I wouldn't get a wet bottom.  What a little treasure he is.  Between them they taped and strapped my knee up beautifully.  I certainly wouldn't have got through the day without it.   It felt really good after the treatment and now I knew that all would be well for the rest of the day.  What wonderful people we have on our trek with us.  They really make the memories so great thinking back on it.  Everyone was very helpful and we all wanted everyone to finish the trek. We were taking a short break while we were climbing a hill we turned around to see the most wonderful sight before us.  The clouds were down so low it was just a black and white setting below us as the hills were surrounded by the white clouds.  Barry quickly took a picture but even though the picture looks surreal it was even more majestic in the real time as it looked like something from a moonscape with just little bits of the hill poking through the clouds.  

Photograph:  preparing for our last climb:

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#26 Boss Meri

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Posted 25 June 2007 - 05:52 PM

After climbing up the inevitable hill we still had the Golden Staircase to come down to Goldie River before lunch so it was very much appreciated having the knee strapped.  It was another swim across the fast flowing water and just enough time to have a quick wash and clean the boots up on the other side.  All morning the porters and guides had been gathering greens and flowers again to make up headdresses for the victors of the trek and now it is only 45 minutes away from those wonderful arches that will signify that we have completed the famous Kokoda Track.  Moses, Barry, David and I left quickly after everyone had been presented and adorned with the greenery to our hats and packs to climb the last part.  We all wanted to arrive at the same time and go through the arches together, and I wasn't sure if the knee was going to hold up till then.  So far so good and we all arrived at a small plateau to gather in the hot sun (the first time I had noticed the heat) to make the last steep climb to Owers' corner and the wonderful arches.  I actually got to go through first with Moses holding my hand.  

Photograph:  Alissa and me cleaning our boots at Goldie River:

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#27 Boss Meri

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Posted 25 June 2007 - 06:06 PM

They wanted me to go through by myself, but I was adamant that it was Moses that had got me this far and he was going to be holding my hand like he had for the past 8 days as we went through the arches at the end.  I had already warned Moses that I was going to give him the biggest hug he had ever had in his life.  We all went through one after another and then it was hugs and cheers all around for everyone.  What an unbelievable sight!.. the truck was waiting for us with some very well appreciated cold beers and soft drinks to celebrate the victory of our group.  I almost forgot about my sore legs and knees after getting through knowing that I wouldn't have to walk anymore.  It was wonderful to know that we had finished one of the most gruelling walks on the world in pretty well good condition as well.  Barry and I gave our porters some money and also put in for the collection for the rest of them as well to share.  

We were all so happy to know that we had achieved a goal in our lives and come through pretty well unscathed to boot.  The porters were happy to have helped us through and we gave each and every one a huge round of applause.  I never found the smell of our porters (because they don't wear deodorant) at all offensive and found comfort along the track many times knowing they were there to help me through.  I probably smelt nearly as bad as them at times.  Someone did comment once along the track and said I looked just like I had stepped out of the shower till I had walked passed him then he said 'nah she stinks' likes the rest of us.

Robbo stood up and gave a speech and said every trek had its own Fuzzy Wuzzy Angel and when young Moses was chosen I nearly cried with joy because he had really done the equivalent of the original ones so many years before.  He present me with a beautiful woven bag, which I will treasure, and use.  We gave both David and Moses our tent and mattresses and the promise of new boots.  We have since sent them over a pair of Mack walking boots, which I am sure they will wear with pride when they receive them.  Gail has kindly said to send them to Queensland and they will be included in the next food shipment that will be sent up to Port Moresby.  Her daughters manage the firm that provide the food ration packs and her son organises the treks from Queensland when she is in Boroko New Guinea.  

I cannot speak highly enough of the work that Gail and Russell are doing to try and help the villagers along the way and to educate them into better health regimes for their own good.  

Meanwhile back at Owers' Corner the truck was finally laden with all the backpacks and luggage from the porters and guides and we were soon heading back to Pot Moresby where all this started 9 days ago.  The four wheel drive truck had made it into Owers' Corner but the smaller one hadn't been able to get through, so to our dismay we had to walk up a further hill to get to it.  The adrenalin was still high so I don't reckon any of us noticed the steep hill we had to walk up before the truck came into view and we were once again on the road.  The beers were well and truly flowing by this time and we sang and drank our way back to Port Moresby, which was still about 2 hours away.  

Arriving back at the Airways Hotel was wonderful with the treat of a hot water shower and soft bed again.  A few of us met up later on that evening for dinner and swapped stories and talk into the night before heading off to our own rooms for a well earned sleep.  The next day was Anzac Day and an early pick up to take us to the Bomana War Cemetery for the dawn service.  We met up with the boys again and listened to a very moving and emotionally charged service.  The cemetery is very well kept and the sight of all those graves didn't lessen the thanks we felt for the men who gave their lives so we could enjoy the freedom in Australia we have today.  

We were invited back to the Australian High Commission for breakfast but with such a large crowd Barry and I decided we would just go back to bed at the hotel and catch up on some more sleep and meet up with the rest later on that day perhaps.  We were lounging around the room when the phone rang to tell us to get over to the Gateway Hotel for the presentation of the certificates and t-shirts from Gail and Russell and have a few drinks as well.  Off we went and had a good time with the guys again although most of them had been at the Yacht Club during the day and would probably have forgotten all about the presentations later on.  We all came back to the Airways and had a lovely dinner and talked more with the promises of keeping in touch with people.

It was only after I had got home and was at work one day when someone asked if I had seen any ghosts along the track that I remembered an incident where we were walking up this incline and Barry had been behind me and he had pushed me on my backpack.  After some time I could still feel him doing it and said to him that he didnít need to push me anymore, but when I turned around there wasnít anyone there.  I felt the pressure there a little while longer and then it ceased.  When I told Ernest about it later he said it does happen occasionally and I felt very honoured that I had been chosen to experience it.  Barry said he doesnít remember ever pushing me at all and had stopped off to take a photo of a mortar shell stuck in the fork of a tree out on the hillside.  If I recall correct enough it was around Mt Bellamy before that awful afternoon when it rained dreadfully.  It went completely out of my mind till then.  It is not even written in my diary along the track.  Amazing.

Although we had flown and spent two weeks in Phuket to relax and recover from the rigours of the trek, we were still thoroughly exhausted when we arrived home.  It is unbelievable how strong the mind can work and it made us put our bodies through so much punishment, it will be weeks before we are back to normal I reckon.  Barry came through it all with nothing but a few aches and pains not even a blister on his feet.  Remarkable feat from us both I feel, as we are just a pair of normal but adventurous people in our fifties.

The memories we have of that special time in New Guinea will stay with us for many years to come and it is only the people that you meet along the way that seem to make it so special.  I shall never forget the kindness and caring nature of the Papuans we met and shared our lives with for a short time on the jungle track they call the Kokoda Trail.

Photograph:  Owers' Corner - yes, trek 272 completed their trek and Ruth got a standing ovation from all her fellow trekkers for her mighty effort:

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