Another great day walking the Kokoda Track, after three days I was enjoying it more than I expected to be honest. I’d expected some challenging hiking with few views, interesting WW2 history of the fighting here between the Japanese and Australians, and to learn something of the local Papua New Guinean culture. It was the last part that I was enjoying the most, particularly in the company of a shy but loveable crew from South Sea Horizons, a rare Papua New Guinean owned operator on the Kokoda Track (the vast majority are Australian owned).
After a huge day yesterday we had a relative lie in until 5am, after which I caught the effects of a respectable sunrise.
We headed downhill, never that much fun, given concerns over slipping, and pressure on the knees and ankles, to reach and cross Browns River. This required boots off for the first part, then boots on and using a makeshift rope support across a basic log bridge to complete the crossing.
From here was one of the very few flat sections of track, across Browns Swamp, which thankfully was mostly spanned with log bridges.
The village of Avulogo was in a rare patch of open land, though mosquito infested during the wet season, one reason for there being so many villages higher in the mountains.
I finally broke a sweat on a decent half hour steep ascent to a ridge with views of Nauro 1 and 2, imaginative named neighbouring villages. Quite surreal seeing where we stayed last night from a distance, surrounded by thick rainforest.
We got to Menari by 10.15am, allowing plenty of time in one of the largest villages in the area. It is home to around 400 people, including six of our seven man crew. Another hut was home for the night, and I skipped the shower and went straight for an utterly blissful relax in the nearby idyllic stream.
The tastiest meal of the trip so far was waiting for me when I got back, a random sounding but rather tasty toasted tuna and noddle wrap!
After lunch I went for an explore around the village, perfectly safe and very welcoming if not really representative of a typical Papua New Guinean village. Money from the Kokoda Track (there are seven campsites in Menari, though we were the only group there at the time), charities, and the Australian and Papua New Guinean governments has brought running water and toilets, a school, clinic, church, community radio, and an airstrip with a weekly plane service.
It is still a very simple and basic life though, with no banking, internet or mobile reception, and several days walk to civilisation. Flights by helicopter and plane to Port Moresby are available and take 9 and 15 minutes respectively but at 400 Kina per person (NZ$180) , are out of reach for almost everyone living there. Food and other supplies are brought in by air, 4 Kina per kg, but their diet is mainly rice supplemented by locally grown fruit and vegetables.
I had an interesting chat with Roger, one of two staff of the Rotary funded clinic which provides basic medical services to six villages in the area, around 1,500 people. He isn’t a local, has been here four years, and is allowed to return to Port Moresby only once a quarter.
Villagers speak three languages, Pidgin, English to some degree, and their local language. There are two main tribes along the track, the boundary is around Templeton’s Crossing, who have their own languages from a common base, but now quite different. Papua New Guinea is home to around 800 languages, around 12% of the world’s total.
After a relaxing afternoon catching up writing trip blogs I spent time with the crew understanding their life in the village, and they sang their daily three songs including their theme song which we could sing along to by now. Most of the crew belong to the village choir…