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sydney alternative media - non-profit community independent trustworthy
Wednesday, 12 August 2009
Walking, not flying, to Kokoda in 1990
Mood:  sad
Topic: local news

We haven't seen today's press but radio reports brings back both fond and painful memories of one of SAM editor's youthful adventures complete with malaria (Plasmodium vivax)

This is an entry from our biography at the left side link here:

1/1990 – solo trek of Kokoda Track


Picture: Kokoda map we had laminated after solo trek in 1990. 6 days of malaria was a bummer, glad to get home but a great experience. We got lost about 8 km west of here [from memory approach paths to village of Efogi], alot easier than you might think from the deceptive lines above. Rescued by local 'nationals' (the ones not carrying guns).

We had another map, vertical dimensions not plan style as above, but it got too faded over the last many years. We should have got it laminated not just mounted behind glass. After so much angst we promised ourselves to frame it.

Nor did we take a camera prior to our community media lifestyle.

Our main contribution to this unfolding tragedy is to point out you didn't need to fly to Kokoda and head back to Port Moresby to leave PNG: One presumes tour companies prefer this as arrivals into the country must have an "exit ticket from PNG" and Port Moresby is the only practical international airport near the Track about 30 km from the coastal end. The Track itself is about 100km  length roughly from the coastal start to Kokoda over the Owen Stanley ranges. Longer again up and down valleys.

Our plan was different - of course partly due to budget. We planned to walk the Track and then head further north from Kokoda to Lae on the North Coast, and exit by ship or boat via Bougainville. Our "exit ticket" so called was out of Honiara, not PNG at all, capital of Pacific Island state of Solomon Islands via island hopping from PNG.

Only we got malaria half way on our trip after the Kokoda leg up at Lae (north coast PNG) and had to fly by large jet from Lae (international ?) airport to Port Moresby then back to Australia.

On first arrival in PNG and cultural experience for 2 days in the markets and mini buses of  Moresby noting the red juice on the footpath (betel nut) on there on the south coast we took same public transport from this rambling city to a nearby village called Sogeri near the Track. Sogeri  is also close to a national park (home of tree people). It was middle of summer but still deserted. How sad.

We distinctly remember an inflated price demanded by the bus driver presumably because he thought we must be a rich Anglo. But fact is we sold all our spare stuff, books, clothes, to pay for the trip including our old Peugoet 404 sedan, as well as 3 weeks heavy lifting with a removalist firm. We must have raised our voice in protest but keeping in mind the Lonely Planet caution that shouting is a cultural no no in PNG.

The Track was a challenge. We fell on our arse first 10 metres on slick muddy surface which really hurt with a full pack. It was a serious moment. For a minute we believed this would be impossible. We groped around for a walking staff. We took one shaky step. Then two steps. We can do this! Very character building.

At one point on our Track experience we came to a scary river fjord, with single log to cross. We unbuckled in case we fell in to prevent drowning. We grovelled on backside again and continued on. Later we got lost on the track as per the image above. Maybe it was the initial symptoms of malaria? We stumbled into a creek after striking a hugely painful poisonous prickle bush. We howled until the cold water miraculously washed the pain out. On yet another early morning we passed a guy with a double barrel shot gun over his shoulder. There was a night rained in with a shrieking native bird nearby. There was delicious local freeze dried coffee cowboy brew and chewy roasted corn cobbs in the husk.

We ended up in a village off the track which from memory was Efogi (as per regional map name below). There was a plane arriving there at the village same time the villagers came to greet this lone Anglo. They suddenly left me as they changed direction ululating in excitement as the little plane arrived on the grass oval style runway. Supplies! Later they sold me some food and portered me up the highest point Mt Belamy back on the Track. I was proud but just then very grateful for the help and paid them what I could for their support before they turned back at the top.

We have one amusing memory of a missionary surrounded by porters. Mmm.

The people treated me beautifully on the Track while careful to warn me about murderous raskol gangs (at that time at Kokoda, letting me sleep inside away from trouble).

The trip from Kokoda was also very interesting. Not flying. By road transport, like Charlie Boorman perhaps, in the back of a local villager's ute with other locals, to the local Port of Popendetta/Oro Bay. From there by large Lutheran Ferry to Lae. Then as mentioned large jet flight (Air Niugini) back to Moresby - but only after Qantas who claimed to lose my ticket out of Honiara gave me a substitute ticket back home. Perhaps they were worried I would die of malaria on their counter? The only sympathy came from a local PNG worker.

Did my ticket really go missing? Perhaps ASIS had twigged that a wild Canberra law student was tracking over to Bougainville in the middle of a civil war over Rio Tinto's gold and copper mine?

After getting to Lae and following 6 days and 5 nights of no sleep or food from a stomach bug, actually malaria, and then treatment from Lae hospital and I was barely well enough to walk to and from the plane over the tarmac(s) at Lae and Moresby. Sydney never looked so good.


We made this graphic of parliament yesterday and notice the last frame when the news from Kokoda came through - grim reactions all round. Quite moving I thought. God have mercy.







Posted by editor at 9:35 AM NZT
Updated: Sunday, 16 August 2009 2:02 PM NZT

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