Tuesday, August 7, 2012

My Journey to Kokoda [Part 2]

Day 5 – Brigade Hill to Bombers Camp

We were up for an 8 hour day and changed our direction slightly to end up at Bombers Camp where we would be the only trekking group to staying there for the night. We were told that swamp lands were on the agenda today, little did we know how much swamp was coming, or should I say how many hours of swamp. It was always the unknown and that was part of the journey of being in the moment and seeing some of the most beautiful scenery, sunsets and people. We are heading off to Efogi to see the last surviving Fuzzy Wuzzy and stop for lunch. I recall the last part of the walk before lunch being so very hot and I was really struggling to walk we seemed to be going up and up and up in a winding path of red dirt and heat. When we arrived at the outskirts of Efogi we all sat under a tree and cooled off. I recall seeing Francis my porter looking very tired and hot. He cooled off under the running water and then he went off to rest while the rest of us went into the village to meet the last surviving Fuzzy Wuzzy. 

We all had photos and just listened to the stories that his Nephew told while he briefly spoke about his experience. The Fuzzy Wuzzy is said to be 106 and he was covered in medals and very proud. I remember him grabbing my hand and shaking it. He looks very fragile but happy and proud to be able to share his experience with many generations. I had thoughts of my grandchildren and when they are at school learning about the war they will have a lovely story of their Nanna and her trip to Kokoda. It was a very special moment and a great memory to have created.
We had lunch in the village and they made dumplings, lunch was nice but I had this uneasy feeling about eating too much as I knew we had a big climb to go. I was right; it was not a good idea to eat to much as lots of the boys found it very hard going walking up Mt Bellamy with dumplings aboard. As we head off up Mt Bellamy where they use to meet to transfer the post its 2190m above sea level so you can imagine how much climbing we will do. It is said that it was the mid-point so they would meet and swap the mail over and return to deliver to the soldiers. It was the highest point on the trip and was very cool, even though you are sweating it is a cold seat and I have to say a bit of a relief.
Plans had to change slightly as the other group was going to our planned camping spot, so Bill decided to take up to his favorite place Bombers Camp. After walking for what seemed like forever we arrived at the camp to find the most picturesque place I had seem yet. It was beautifully manicured with a lovely creek flowing through. Francis set my tent up right near a flower bed and I just sat in awe and wonder at this place in the middle of nowhere. Then the news came, one of the little huts on the other side had a hot shower, yep Hot running water, all they had to do was start the fire and I would have a hot shower in private without my clothes on….I was excited. After my shower I felt a little more feminine and clean to say the least.

Day 6 - Bombers Camp to Eora Creek

Waking up at Bombers Camp was wonderful, it was so beautiful and peaceful and you could hear birds and running water. Then breakfast came and it was freshly baked Banana bread, in the jungle, like how did they do this? Without being rude or unsociable I wanted to sit outside and eat breakfast as the sun was rising and the air was so crisp. It was just stunning, there was a mist over the stream and the smell of banana bread was all consuming.
After we went to look at the bomb site and the plane propeller I decided it was time to go to the toilet before heading off for the day. I am not sure if I mentioned this before but on this trip I would have paid anything to be a boy. As they just went in the bush for the most part. Anyway every time I went to the bathroom I had to take my trusty toilet buddy Bill and he would keep a watch for me so no one walked in on me and I was safe do my business. On this particular morning I was off to the little toilet hut and as you can imagine there is no sitting, just squatting and coordinating wipes and pants so you don’t touch anything or fall in. I have just finished zipping up my pants and cleaning my hands with wipes when I go to step over the hole and the floor collapses out from under me…..now there is no way I am falling in the shitter!!!, so I grabbed onto the very first pole I could and the floor fell in and I am hanging on for dear life…..at this point I scream and Bill say “ are you ok” I stated that I am not and need help. Bill then replied “Are you decent?” and all I could say was “Does it F%#@&?& matter?’ yes I was decent, and they all came running. As you would imagine I was very shaken, but relieved that I didn’t fall in the shitter…phew!!!. They got me out and I had a bit of a gash in my leg and a hand full of splinters and some grazes on my arms……It was not one of my most graceful moments but we managed to laugh about it later on. I was cleaned up with disinfectant and bandaged up ready to trek out. The boys didn’t know whether to laugh or not, but I am sure if it was one of them they would have pissed themselves laughing in no time. I often look at the scar on my leg with pride, let’s face it no one has to know it’s from the toilet. I call it my bravery scar…..lol
After another long day and a bit of a limp I was pumping myself with antibiotics as there was no way I am going home…I am here to finish this wound or not. We arrived at Eora Creek which was Sia’s family’s land (Trek Master) and we got the most beautiful camp spot right on the river, running with rapids and it was amazing, every camp seemed to get more beautiful than the last. I went straight into the water to clean up and get my wound clean and wrapped again. The water was like ice, it took your breath away but you loved the feeling of the water on your skin, well the parts that were exposed. We sat on a rock with a fire and at popcorn. I showed Sia how to play snap and we just enjoyed the afternoon and reflected on the journey to here. 

Day 7 – Eora Creek to Isurava Memorial site

Leaving Eora Creek was sad as it was such a beautiful place and so hidden in between mountains, you could hide there forever. As we crossed the first river we head straight up the side of another mountain. By this stage of the trip I am getting a little slower and wearier each day. I still feel very positive and have energy to keep going but I know I am a little slower. As usual I headed out first with a couple of general porters and Francis. I remember Francis telling me about things we see along the way and I always told his when I could hear the Owls early in the morning. When we set out Sia was with us and he said to me “No falls and No tears today Donna” I said that sounds like a great plan but I can’t promise anything other than to do my best. I feel like I am savoring every moment as I know we are nearing the end of the journey and part of me doesn’t want it to end.
Arriving at Alola village after a big walk up a massive hill (again) their was a shower on the hill with the most amazing view for what seemed like forever across the mountains. It was cool water and very refreshing. I walked into the village about 10 minutes ahead of the rest and the kids all greeted me. I think I ate three bananas before anyone arrived. The little girl in the photo just loved me taking pictures of her and showing her.
We had a very early lunch at Alola village and were taken up the hill to a museum which was filled with memorabilia from the war, there were guns and grenades and ammunition
Just prior to arriving at Isurava we saw some memorial plaques off one of the Bissett brothers and listened to the stories of their bravery and the few hours together before Tom dies in his brothers arms.  We also hear the story of Surgeons rock where they assessed the soldiers and performed amputation’s to save the soldiers’ lives. It was very confronting to hear what really happens at certain points along the trip.
Walking into Isurava was a great feeling and a big relief. This was definitely a milestone on the journey and we arrived early in the afternoon which gave us time to relax and clean up. We went down to the memorial site with the other group of Kokoda Spirit trekkers and had a service. It was so emotional to hear the stories and sing with the other group. We heard poetry and acknowledged the fallen soldiers. Rueben sang and played the guitar and then all the porters sang their national Anthem and we sang the Australian National Anthem.
All the boys found beers and cigarettes, what an eventful night of singing. No stars in this group I can assure you!!!
After the service we went back to the camp site and I was asked if I would lay a wreath on behalf of all the trekkers. I felt so honoured to be given the opportunity and it is a moment I will never forget. The next morning was 4am start for the main service and then we were staying for the second service. This is where we got to meet and shake the hand of 4 amazing soldiers who were part of the 39th Battalion.  These men played an enormous role in the war and defending Kokoda. This was one of those moments where you watch these men in admiration and wonder, how they did what they did and survived both physically and mentally. 

Day 8 – Isurava to Hoi

After all the formalities it was back to plodding one step at a time. I often remembered along the trek what Jock taught me and that was to plod, never stop just slow down and keep plodding, one foot in front of the other and at times one foot next to the other. I recall plodding along and feeling very smug. I felt like I had done it, I have done the Kokoda trek…., now realistically I knew I was still a day away but something inside me knew I was going to make it. We were heading off to Deniki for lunch before stopping at Hoi for our last night. As I was walking I was feeling great. It was mostly downhill so I was going pretty quickly and walked passed a running stream and then SPLAT…….I fell flat on my face, almost smashed my face into a rock. I had my arms hit the rocks. And I literally went down like a bag of shit. I remember one of the boys coming up to me later and said “that fall was a 10! We had lunch at Deniki and then 40 minutes to Hoi and that meant a wash in the river and a restful afternoon. We were also promised a feast, what a feast we had, great food, stories and thanking all the Porters and guides and especially the cook.

Day 9 – Hoi to Kokoda

Up before the crack of dawn and its still dark and we are getting ready for our short walk into Kokoda. We are all excited and relieved that we are really at the end, we made it! The walk is like a stroll it was a little scary in the dark as we never trekked out in the dark this entire trip. But we had a plane to catch and for the boys they had beers to drink.
We walked through Kokoda Village and it was a very different feel to being out in the villages. It was almost like being back at Port Moresby, which was not nice at all. Our plane arrived as soon as we got to the Airstrip and half of the group were off to the Airport. What was scary is how close the planes fly next to each other in what seems like a race. I recall saying to Bill "I didn’t just survive Kokoda to die in a plane crash"…lol
Back at the Hotel and it was 9.50am and the bar wasn’t open for another 10 minutes. We all smelt really bad and by 10.30 we were eating Burgers and Chips and drinking beer, yes including me.
Even after 3 months I am still in awe and wonder about this entire journey, the experiences and the total determination I had to succeed. I remember getting our certificates and we all reflected on the trip and some of the boys told me they were not sure I was going to make it but I just kept going. I know inside me I would never have given up and I was determined to make it to the end, even if I had to crawl.

I would like to express my deepest gratitude to the Porters who kept us safe and also to Kokoda Spirit for an experience of a lifetime. Thank you Francis for your care and concern for my safety each and every step i made. I would not have been able to do this without my Francis, he had my back. 

If you have Kokoda on your Bucket list make sure you do it or you may just wonder for the rest of your life what if ?????


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