5am and we are all awake and trying to get organised for the next long day of walking. As I expected it was going to be another really long day, perhaps not finishing until after dark again. With that in mind I had as big a breakfast as I could stomach – museli with dried fruit and porridge with a liberal squeeze of condensed milk for sweetness followed by a hot chocolate.
I ate breakfast in my sleeping clothes; full length skins, yoga pants and a polar fleece top, not because I was cold but because I didn’t fancy putting on wet clothes and wanted to give them a few more minutes to ‘dry’. I ended up putting on wet shorts as I didn’t want everything I owned to be wet within the first 2 days of walking. Within a few minutes of walking it didn’t matter that my shorts were wet, I was already sweating!
We left Isurava Village for Isurava Memorial. The walk there took about 2 hours, again mostly uphill. We passed a few other trekking groups working in the opposite direction. They all looked ecstatic with their achievements, with only a few days of walking to go they had earned the smiles that were plastered all over their faces. I couldn’t wait until I would be able to smile and joke as I walked along and then I realised that very few of the other trekkers were carrying their own packs, most were carrying a water supply and some food with all of their gear being carried by porters.
We made it to Isurava Memorial where Pam our tour guide told us of the importance of Isurava in the Australian campaign and also of the significance of the four pillars that make up the monument, granite pillars each engraved with a single word; courage, mateship, endurance and sacrifice. We were then told of the importance of dog tags for members of the defence force and how not only did the identify who each person was if anything were to go wrong, they also show the belonging to a special group, an extended family. We stood shoulder to shoulder around the monument for a simple ceremony where we were presented with a dog tag.
I never imagined that the simple presentation of such a simple item could have such a great impact. All of a sudden it was apparent that we all had something in common, we were all a part of a select group of trekkers that would bond together over the coming days and become like family to one another. As we are all marvelling at the significance of the bond that was forming, the porters began singing their national anthem. They sung with such pride and admiration that a lump began to form in my throat. As they were singing, other members of the group began placing poppies a the base of the monument to remember those that came before us, giving up their lives in order to give us the lives and freedoms that we take for granted. There was no stopping the tears now; the emotion was overwhelming.
When me moved on from Isurava Memorial, we headed to Surgeons Rock. I had just managed to stop crying each time I though about the soldiers who fought at Isurava when we arrived at Surgeons Rock. Again the tour guide told us of the significance of the location and we had another member of our team read out a poem. The poem told of a mothers love for her son that would not be returning home, also a story of a man who held his dying brother for 6 hours. For the first time I was really missed home and my family. I was in an environment where could imagine being told that I was all alone and it hurt. I began to cry again, I was glad to move away from Surgeons Rock to be alone with my thoughts and compose myself again.
During the next section of walk there was quite a difficult climb, along a ledge, over rocks where I had to use tree roots to balance. I lunged for a section of tree root to help me to balance and I overstretched, I could feel the muscles over my ribcage strain, it didn’t hurt so much but it was a little uncomfortable. It didn’t slow me down, I kept on trudging.
We stopped for lunch in the afternoon at Iora Creek , still hours away from our campsite for the night. Again there was a strong possibility of rain so we had to drag out our pack covers again, along with our head lamps.
I had intended to walk out with the second group but I hadn’t got my pack covered in time so I missed walking out with them. I could have waited for the next group but I thought I would catch them quickly so I followed along. I could see the group ahead and thought I was following the main path that they followed but before long realised that I had begun climbing the hard (read: almost impossible when carrying a 20+kg pack) path and was forced to turn around and slide back down the mountain and go back around to a safer path. I had lost touch with the group ahead of me so instead walked with the group of porters chatting about life in the villages of Papua New Guinea.
As night fell I was still walking with a couple of porters, the rest had walked ahead to get to camp to prepare dinner for us. We walked along in the dark and just to be convenient it began to rain again. I have to say that I was more concerned walking in the dark today than I was yesterday, I was the only one of our small group of 3 to have any light so that slowed down our travel speed somewhat. To make matters worse, we were walking along a narrow path that often had a drop-off on one side. In the dark I couldn’t tell how steep or far the drop was but I could hear rushing water alongside. I had visions of slipping off the path and falling into a rocky river in the dark with no-one around to help me out. This too slowed down my walking speed but fortunately the porters I was walking with were so confident and competent that they did get me to camp in one piece with only one small diversion – we weren’t sure which campsite we were staying in and naturally our first attempted stop was at the wrong camp. Luckily we realised before we crossed over the rushing river on yet another slippery log bridge!
In camp the dinner call had just gone out. I used the time everyone was eating to try and scrape the mud off my shoes, wipe as much mud off of me as I could, hang out more wet clothes in the deluded hope they would dry and crawl into warm dry sleeping clothes again.
By this time the first instalment of rice was eaten so I climbed into my sleeping bag to warm up some more and to wait for dinner.
I was still in my sleeping bag and freezing when the next lot of trekkers arrived in camp. The ‘guest house’ was already crowded so I ended up moving my sleeping gear to be closer to other bodies to try and stay warm. Just moving my bedding from one part of the hut to another was enough for me to begin shivering again. It was at this point I decided that it was easier to munch on chocolate in bed rather than get up to eat real food. Instead I would have a double serve of porridge before walking in the morning!