The light pitter patter of rain roused us as the morning sun broke first light. Ordinarily, I would be hungry and ready to devour breakfast, but today I had no such desire. Pears and peaches were served alongside our usual weetbix, although it was a delicious spread, I was slow to eat. Once I had managed to finish my bowl of cereal, I downed a hot milo and began getting ready for the day.
We woke up with the sound of rain and so the weather forecast was set for the day. I had a raincover for my main backpack, the one that Auda was carrying. But I did not have a cover for my daypack. I went through my pack to find something to use as an alternative and realized that my windcheater could do the trick! I wrapped the jacket around the backpack as if it were wearing it, it was genius.
The trail was not immediately obvious to us on the outskirts of the village. The porters lead us to the trailhead and off we went into the jungle, the ground becoming increasingly squelchy with mud.
I had trained for this. My brother and I practiced what he called “Irregular Movement Training”. We’d head out to the Royal National Park and hike the marked trails, but to make it more challenging we’d randomly climb onto the rocks and find irregular paths that would emulate uneven ground. This proved to be excellent training for Kokoda.
On the trail I spent a lot of time with my cousins, we were a team! I stayed at the back of the group with Sarah for a while. But I got excited as soon as I saw the trail descend into a valley, my first instincts were to speed ahead and retake the lead with Auda holding onto my backpack for stability.
We reached a river at the bottom of the mountain. It was very tempting to take a dip, especially since it had been days since a proper shower. The porters told us that Menari was only 5 minutes away, so we held our excitement and continued along the creek, following the stream to a path.
The 5 minutes turned into 10 minutes, then before we knew it time we had been walking for a long time and still had not reached Menari. Through the trees we could see the rising shape of a village, was this the village?
Sarah and I were well ahead of the group with our porters, so we took a rest on a giant log to allow the rest of the group to catch up. Auda instructed us not to enter the village without the group leader. Several minutes passed and we were back on our way, we entered the village, we had reached Menari.
Having kina on hand was a great idea, I felt like a kid in a candy store every time we passed a village. There would almost always be an assortment of fresh fruits to purchase. If we were particularly lucky, there might also be a selection of sugary treats, such as sodas and candies.
Sarah bought a whole pineapple, we cut into it and it was very sweet and very juicy. I bought a Sprite for myself and for Auda, a refreshing beverage and welcome sugar boost for the spirit and for energy.
We were to set up for the night in this village, there was a large building, which I would ordinarily call a house, but it was empty inside. No divided space, just one single room without furniture – obviously meant for trekkers to make camp. We dropped our bags here and settled in. It was about 2:30 in the afternoon and the rain had stopped for some time, it was a good opportunity to wash clothes. Some of the guys had gone to the centre of town to watch the locals play a game of soccer.
Down near the creek, there was a makeshift tap which diverted flowing water into a PVC pipe. Sarah and I washed our clothes there and dried them out on the grass nearby. I showered and freshened up, the water was cold but vitalizing.
We lay out on the grass and contemplated the clouds. The sky was awash with cloud cover and we could barely make out any distinctive shapes, but there was joy and relaxation to be sought.
After a while, the porters told us that there would be heavy rains later. It’s as if they had a barometer built into their bodies, a sixth sense of sorts. Sarah and I went down to the creekside to gather our clothes, which by then were almost dry – laying them out overnight inside the house would finish the job.
Before we knew it the skies opened up, bring a heavy downpour. The guys came running back and were completely drenched by the time they made it inside. We were housebound until dinner, so we played cards for a few more hours.
Dinner was curry chicken and rice, which was served inside the house. The aroma was incredible and we were all hungry. It was a delicious meal.
As we settled in for the night, getting ready for bed, we noticed that there was a small hole in the roof that was leaking water right into the area where we were about to sleep. Someone had the bright idea of chewing gum and using the wad to plug the hole – and who else was small enough to lift to the great height to reach the ceiling, none other than me! So they lifted me and even then I needed to stretch to reach the hole, but no cigar. The water made the area around the hole too wet, so the gum could not stick. Someone brought sticky tape, so we tried to tape the gum but again the water was making the whole area too wet. In the end, we abandoned the plugging of the hole and settled for cups on the floor to catch the drips. The drip, drip, dripping was a soothing sound to send us to sleep.