Day four on the Kokoda Track was the easiest, with only three hours of walking, followed by a relaxed time in Efogi. This is one of the larger villages along the track, which for some reason didn’t connect with me as Menari had yesterday.
After a 5am wake up call and another box of Wheet-Bix demolished by the three of us in the group (though I probably ate half) we left Menari down the hill past the airfield and school to a river crossing. After an hour of walking we didn’t seem that far from the village, and another hour walking up hill didn’t add much either. It is slow going travelling through this landscape, with most of the effort spent going up or down a hillside rather than much forward progress on a map. In terms of distances the track is 60km as the crow flies but 96km to walk, it is that hilly…
Occasionally the effort is rewarded with views, which were plentiful at Brigade Hill.
This was also the scene of ferocious fighting between Australian and Japanese soldiers 6-9 September 1942, during which both sides suffered significant casualties. At that time the ridge would have been forested, but it has now been cleared for a campsite and a basic but effective war memorial.
We conducted a short memorial serve for those who fell, laying flowers and observing a minute of silence.
An enterprising local knew her customer base well, selling tasty banana bread, an Australian classic.
We made it to Efogi by mid morning, staying in a campsite relatively central to the village, different to the previous couple of nights where the campsites were on the edges of the villages. It had a traditional tree house, pretty cool other than the forlorn parrot kept in a tiny cage underneath.
Being central gave it a different vibe, definitely more locals passing by, one of whom I had a good chat to about the village, the track, and State of Origin (an Australian rugby tournament), which was on that night. Efogi is the only village in the area with a TV, in the local school, which had attracted people to walk from neighbouring villages to walk for hours to watch the game. Unfortunately they learnt last week that the TV receiver wasn’t working, had it sent on the weekly service plane to Port Moresby on Monday and hoped to have it back in time for the game. Unfortunately they were unsuccessful, denying what would have been an entertaining, if late night, and resulting in some pretty unhappy machete wielding visitors from other villages. Machetes are a pretty common sight in Papua New Guinea, even carried by kids, and are part of the culture, but they still gave me concern.
Despite the lack of rugby there was still plenty of life during the day with school sports day. There are around 80 children in a village of about 200 people, though some have come from neighbouring villages to study. They played impressive touch rugby, volleyball, and football. Was quite exhausting just watching them, so much energy.
We visited the rather smart Efogi War Museum, opened less than two months ago on ANZAC Day (25 April) 2019. Like the school it was funded by the Australian government, and incorporates a local market space.
With plenty of time remaining I did my second sketch of the trip.
After which I went for my third wander around the village, having a great conversation with Tony, one of the six teachers in the village. Originally from an area close to the border between Indonesia and Papua New Guinea, he had been teaching in Efogi for four years. An avid radio listener, he was very well informed on politics. We talked about government debt, corruption, and the pay status of teachers which I reassured him is poor in most countries (demonstrated the previous week with huge teacher strikes in New Zealand). He had a small solar panel for lighting, and his radio, but to make a phone call required a two hour walk up a nearby mountain to get signal. The Kokoda Track brings a lot of benefits to the villages along it (particularly compared to typical PNG villages where 80% of the eight million population live), but they’re still remote and basic places.