Oct 29th 1983

posted in: The way back | 1

Our very last day on the Trail, but also the day we finished, so I may as well describe the whole day.  Awoke early with the help of the alarm clock, + set about cooking our breakfast + packing by candlelight.  Even so, by the time we were ready to leave, it was later than we wanted it to be, about 7.15 or so.  It should be an easy day today, out to Kokoda, just 13 kms, provided we could manage the 2 river crossings OK, but we wanted it all to be over + done with.  It was also very dismaying to see the rain still coming, down, but we couldn’t sit around all day waiting for the rain to stop – we had to be off.  Not a particularly auspicious start to the day when we encountered the goats of Isurava almost immediately, but we survived the encounter, + were soon trudging our way thro’ the mud away from them.

The river crossings were both a piece of cake, in fact – all that worrying for nothing, + from then on it was just a case of keeping on going, mostly down, until, with huge relief, we came upon the village of Hoi.  This was a new village, not marked on our 1973 map, but very attractive, with lots of grass in the central area (I should explain – nearly all the villages we encountered were built to a similar system, houses on stilts, usually thatched with palm + with plaited bamboo walls, grouped around a central area.)  We could only find 2 boys in the place, everyone else, they told us, being at church (Seventh Day Adventist is very strong in all the villages), but they supplied us with paw-paw + we rested for a while.  The sun was out by now, + was fiercely hot, so we sat in the shade.

And then on, the final push, the last 5 kms.  From here on, there were groups of huts every few 100 metres, and our itinerary, with such a wealth of landmarks after the previous paucity, no longer seemed to make sense, but we asked the way whenever we could, + were kept moving in the right direction (with wildly improbable estimates as to the time it should take us.)  The last 2 or 3 kms were very difficult – we were on a road by now, + it was going as it should thro’ a rubber plantation, but it seemed to stretch out forever beyond us, + Val in particular was really suffering with her foot by now.  However, we made it, dragged ourselves to a convenient couple of benches under cover, + therefore cool, + shed first our packs, + then our boots.  Bliss.  We were in a disgustingly filthy state, so Val hobbled to a nearby standpipe to commence washing body + clothes, while I sought out a shop, + bought us a coke each.

We were then approached by a local fellow who offered us the local guest-house, complete with running water, for just 2K each.  We accepted immediately, + lugged our filthy selves + things there.  The place was, in truth, a bit of a hole – it was filthy, one of the 4 beds had no mattress at all, + another one in such a disgusting state we almost hesitated before putting our packs on it.  But it provided shelter, light + running water, 2 of the beds were respectable, + we had the place to ourselves, so it suited us admirably.  Thee water, in truth, was a bit on + off, depending on who else in the area was using the supply, but we managed.  Val was somewhat immobile by now, so she sat on the bed, + did her best to sort out our packs – basically this meant emptying them completely + spreading the contents around the room – while I performed the more mobile tasks.  Prime among these was doing my best to remove as much mud as possible from our clothes.  The socks seemed impossible – no matter how many times I rinsed them, I simply turned the water to instant mud, so eventually I left them soaking, + went out to look around + buy provisions.

Wandered over first to the War Memorials – they have 3 main ones, for Australians, for native carriers, + for all soldiers killed in the campaign, which just shows the changing consciousness as one grows further from war.  I then went shopping, being sent on a bit of a wild goose chase  but ultimately worth it, buying a can of meat, a can of green beans, + a couple of beers.  I tried desperately to buy potato of some description, but without success.  It was, nonetheless, a feast.

Soon after, Val was asleep, but I had found some energy somewhere, + stayed up for quite a while longer, doing various chores, and then writing a little addition to a letter Val had started to her mum.  I nearly started writing some of this, but decided I really should get some sleep, so lay down with the Walkman, + listened to that.

One thing I’ve forgotten – news of the other 5.  They had stayed in the guest-house the night before, + had, we’d learnt, caught the PMV in the morning.  While I was out, more news – a young, well-spoken lady gave me a note from June with her address, plus the news that they were on a boat to Lae tonight.

One enormous mystery is what happened to October 28th, which seems to have disappeared entirely. I have gone over the entries in both the4 diary and the letter, but can only surmise that Val somehow dropped a day off in her day by day account. Which doesn’t seem to me to make a great deal of sense, but perhaps it needs more careful reading.

But we were done, we had made it, and we felt pretty well satisfied by the achievement. We certainly enjoyed even the relatively squalid conditions of the hut, which seemed luxurious in comparison with what we had experienced over the last few days. And now we were on the north coast of New Guinea, with more towns to explore.

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