by Lee Tze Hong
Three fellow adventures Pang Kwok Peng, Clifton Tang and Lee Tze Hong flew into Popondetta one bright sunny morning in July. The low one-story terminal building offered some relief from the searing heat while we waited for our backpacks to be unloaded. There was no sign of any town nearby and we had no idea which direction was Popondetta. There was not taxi in sight so we asked the driver of the only can around if we could get a ride into town. It cost us PNG $3 each?
On the half hour journey into Popondetta town, we made friends with a little girl who told us her name was Rowena. We said we were heading for Kokoda but she said we could do that tomorrow; why not stay over at her place for the night? After waiting fruitlessly for more than two hours for transport to Kokoda, we walked to Rowena’s house and stayed the night. The guest room was a wooden platform with a thatched roof standing next to the pigsty. We bathed in the stream behind the house. For dinner, Rowena’s sister-in-law cooked us some leaves from a tree near her room. They told us they were Jehovah’s Witnesses.
The next morning, Rowena took us to a logging camp run by some Singaporeans. There, we piled into a 4WD for the 90 minute drive to Kokoda where we bought a one meter long bush knife. At Kovello, we reported at the police post and informed them that we were about to walk the 94km route to Owers’ Corner and thence back to Port Moresby. The sergeant requested that we let them know our estimated time of arrival because if we were overdue at the ot
her end, they would send out a search party for us. We were warned to be careful because some escaped convicts from Port Moresby were reported to be heading his way along the same track. We told the sergeant we would be alright; we had our bush knife.
Rowena saw us off at the edge of the forest. We promised to call her from Port Moresby when we arrived. Then we set off to look for Isurava, our first night’s stop. Isurava turned out to be an abandoned village surrounded by a forest of fragrant trumpet-shaped flowers. A herd of cows and a gigantic white goat roamed freely around in the deserted village and tried to get at our food. Fortunately, we found a house on stilts to spend the night in. The cows spent the night underneath our house.
The next day, we stopped for a rest at Alola village and all the little children ca
me out to take a look at the yellow-skinned strangers. They were the last humans we saw for the next two days. We climbed towards Mt. Bellamy along the valley of the Iora Creek, a river so big that at 1500m above sea level, it is still a raging torrent. We slept that night along the banks of Iora Creek. The night was cold and in the morning we did not bathe. A cold drenching mist hinges over the forest as we continued our climb. We crossed the Iora Creek once more and promptly got lost; the track did not continue on the other side of the river. We lost about one and a half hours searching for the track. One member, Pang got a 10cm row of thorns in his leg while crashing through the undergrowth, but he found the track.
We got into Kagi village rather late that day and bathed in freezing cold water under a pale evening moon. The village headman thought we looked rather hungry and brought us a basketful of home-gown bananas and sweet potatoes. We ate all the sweet potatoes and then we had dinner. After dinner, we ate all the bananas. Both Kagi and Manari, our next stop, have airstrips and airplanes call regularly at these two villages. Just as we arrived at Manari, a plane landed at the airstrip. Like people the world over, the whole village turned out to greet the plane, its passengers, and its carg
o. After a short 10-15 minute stopover, the little Cessna lifted off and was soon beyond the next mountain ridge.
As we left Manari, some villagers gave us a large ripe papaya. As soon as we were out of sight, we ate it up to avoid having to carry it in our hands. Approaching Naoro, we caught up with a family that had gone to Manari to send a relative off at the airstrip. This proved to be a fortunate encounter for me. At the Naoro swamps, when I hesitated about crossing a river on a small tree trunk one of them picked up my 25kg backpack and strolled across. I followed, hesitant and unsteady on the shaky log. We stopped at his house for a rest and to refill our water bottles. Then we pushed on through the forest. On a ridge with chest high kunai grass and giant stands of bamboo, I stopped a while to ad
mire the birds of paradise. Pang and Clifton went ahead to look for Ioribaiwa, another abandoned village where we hoped to spend the night. They could not find the village and I caught up with them at Ofi Creek. We decided to spend the night on the banks. It wasn’t too cold and we had a pleasant evening with our bottle of brandy.
We were not almost through to Owers’ Corner. Crossing Imita Gap, we spent our last night by the Goldie River. We left our last peg of brandy in the bottle and tied it to a pole on the river bank for the next tired trekker to revive himself with. Then we climbed up the river bank to Owers’ Corner.
Getting back to Port Moresby was a simple matter of walking several kilometres until we met up with a PMV, the PNG version of a public bus. Then it was a simple matter of squeezing our packs and ourselves in between the other passengers and their bananas and their vegetables. Fortunately, no one was bringing their pigs to market that day. We called Rowena that night from our hotel room in Port Moresby. We told her of our adventures and she said she would tell the police in Kovello that we were safe. The next day, we set off to climb Mt. Wilhelm.