It’s the final day and knowing we only have a short climb ahead of us gives me the motivation I need to carry myself to the end. Today, we don’t have the usual singing from the porters, instead it’s a very militaristic operation.
James, the group leader, calls out: “Call to the Porters, Gecko’s Trekkers. Are you ready?”
They respond in unison: “Yes!”
James: “Once again, I say are you ready?”
James: “Ready to…”
Porters: “Rock and roll! Aussie Aussie Aussie!”
Everyone: “Oi Oi Oi”
Porters: “Aussie Aussie Aussie”
Everyone: “Oi Oi Oi”
Straight off we head towards the mountain, we can see the path twist away into the trees, but we know that the ascent will be steep, if not vertical because we can see the mountain peak towering above us.
It was a 30 minute climb, in parts on all fours, using our arms to pull ourselves onto ledges and great steps to move forward on the trail. About three-quarters of the way up, I thought to myself “better not look down”. So instead of scaring myself half to death, I decided to look back. I looked back over the valley, over the trees and began to imagine the arduous trail we had just hiked and left behind. I recalled the burn of the climb and the thrill of the descent. The river crossings and the river bathings. I needed a moment to take it all in, but I was very much ready to roll on and make it to the end.
The porters stopped us all just before the peak. They rushed on ahead. I was right at the back of the line, so I could not see what was happening. But then we hear the harmonies of song, the porters began to sing. They were calling us to join them.
We climbed the peak, the porters were lined up in two lines, each waving a palm frond to form a tunnel. It was the most majestic scene you could imagine, we were being welcomed home like royalty. The dulcet tones, angelic, as they sang “Joy, joy, joy.”
Overcome with joy and all sorts of emotion, I could no longer hold back the tears. As I walked through the gently waving palm fronds, I looked for Auda, my porter, my friend. He gave me a reassuring gesture to proceed and I felt immense happiness and a great sense of accomplishment.
We had spent the past 8 days in thick jungle, living simply and exploring boldly, overcoming the difficult terrain Kokoda to Ower’s Corner. We had no concept of the emotions we would feel at the end of the trail – it was an incredible moment.
All the trekkers congratulated each other and gave our thanks to the porters for all their support and guidance through the whole experience, without whom the trail would have been near impossible to trek. But we saved the biggest thanks and displays of gratitude for the final Dinner, which would be held at the hotel later that night.
From Ower’s Corner, we travelled by van to Bomana War Cemetery, a beautifully maintained memorial site for the Australians who served Papua New Guinea. Of the 3,400 headstones, only a handful had names – the rest were unidentified soldiers. It was a sobering experience, very humbling, to see those men who were all very young.
After some hours visiting the memorial, we headed back to Port Moresby, where we checked back into the hotel and got ready for the final Dinner with the porters. I can tell you that the shower felt like the most luxurious thing ever, and having hot running water was a blessing.
The porters joined us for dinner, this was a great gesture of the bonds we’d made. And following the meal, we were invited to exchange gifts with our Porter.
Auda was such a strong young man, on whom I had relied on for support and strength throughout the entire trek. He carried my backpack, which included his belongings so in essence he carried the weight for both of us. He held me steady when I was boldly speeding down the trail.
The suggested gift is of course a cash tip, but they welcome equipment as well – which absolutely makes sense, since they trek the trail over and over. Remember, at the beginning of this hike, Auda was drinking out of a Sprite bottle. So to honour my porter, in addition to the tip, I gifted much of my equipment – the multi-tool, all the water bottles, some of the technical garments, and Auda’s favorite was the microfibre quick-drying travel towel.
And remember the multi-tool that Auda asked to borrow in Efogi 1? He was secretly whittling a piece of wood with our names on it, a great souvenir of our trek together. This was the best gift, very sentimental and meant a lot.