Today we hiked to Kokoda – about a 50 minute walk. Our host family in Beleni village walks this every day for vegetables and fruit as that is the main method of transportation here. They said this is very short walk for them; I hate to see what a long walk would would be like!
There is a concrete slab where ladies walk from nearby villages and sell mostly vegetables – small bundles are tied up neatly and are displayed on their plastic sheets. Nearby is one of only two trading markets in the area – it is run by some tough looking Chinese folks. A friendly local guard hangs out in the two story “guard shack” at the main gate.
Having just been in China last month I got to practice some Chinese using complex words such as Nihao (hello) and Sheshe (thank you). One guy sits on a tall chair behind bars and strong steel plates with a small hole cut so he can see you. Thick chain link and bars surround all the items for sale. You peep though to this darkened environment and tell the local ladies what you want and they pull it off the shelves and hand the items through little slots in the metal.
There is a small air strip here – that was used more often until a terrible crash killed all 13 people on board several years back (trekkers and locals). Apparently there was a shortage of pilots and a pilot who had been partying and drinking the night before was called in at the last minute. She thought she was at a higher elevation than in actuality and put the plane right into the side of the mountain during broad daylight. The brother of the boyfriend of the lady we are staying with was killed in that crash.
We are in a valley surrounded by beautiful tall mountains in all directions – Mt. Victoria towers to the south of us; this mountain has ice on top during cold spells.
This area was home to absolutely brutal battles between the Australians and the Japanese and later the Americans. There is a small war museum dedicated to the people who fought the battles here. Malaria, dysentery, torrential rains, steep thick jungles and people shooting at you made for a hellish and often fatal experience for the troops.
It was at this museum that we bumped into the lady we saw struggling to pull her vehicle and passengers out of a stream two days before. Judith was a flight attendant for many years and traveled the world. This however is her home, and she decided to recently start her own transportation company – ferrying passengers from Popondetta to Kokoda. She just started driving – and said that she now completes the one way journey in about 3.5 hours instead of 5 hours previously. What a gutsy lady to start a business like this much later in her life! Here is our interview with Judith:
On the way back we jumped into one of the worst vehicles I’ve ever been in. The battery was jury rigged so that it sat in the front passenger seat. The drivers seat had worn away its bolts and was sitting on wood which the driver had to constantly adjust. The windows were smashed in or cracked beyond repair, the sides of the doors had long ago lost all padding and were now rusted relics – and our back seats were destroyed but old old towels covering them preserved some degree of modesty.