We spent most of today exploring the hilly jungle covered countryside around Misima Village with Seli. Seli is about 60 years of age (when we ask people’s ages here we get approximate answers) and has the stamina of someone half his age. Like most people living in the mountains in this area he walks everywhere barefoot – even on the rocky, steepest of trails. And he will climb much faster than most people in shape who are wearing shoes! Walking is the only way around much of Papua New Guinea, especially these mountain villages. There are no horses, bicycles, roads, trains etc. If you want to go anywhere quickly within PNG (cheap tickets), the airplane is the way to do it.
In the morning we headed out to try some gold mining. We walked through huge patches of edible greens growing wild (we’ve been eating these greens every meal) and headed towards some small creeks lower in the rainforest. We brought a cooking pan with us to substitute as a gold pan. Seli and his trusty machete hacked a trail down the side of the steep mountain towards a landslide that had happened a number of years earlier. Soon it was pouring rain and we were all drenched. And no gold was found either.
This is the site of major battles during WWII between the Australians and the Japanese (Kokoda). Seli’s property was where the 53rd Battalion (Australia) was camped out during the war. He showed us some of the battle artifacts he has found on his property – old rusted guns, battle helmets and bayonets, still containing the original wood from 70 years ago. During the war, his father was a “carrier” – ferrying supplies for the Australians up and down the mountains.
Later in the day we hiked up to the plane crash from 2009 which killed 13 people (trekkers and locals). This was a brutal climb. We thought the trail up to the village was steep – this was much worse – basically just climbing straight up the jungle covered hillside.
Seli brought his machete and cut through parts of the trail as needed – after an hour of almost nearly all uphill climbing we arrived at the site. This was a disastrous crash – straight into the side of the mountain – the impact heard far below in Kokoda. Seli remembers being in Kokoda – hearing the crash and then running up to find emergency helicopters parked below his garden.
One of the wings was vertical – medicine bottles were scattered around the hillside – with the labels still readable (as that plane was delivering medicine to the Kokoda clinic), seats with seat-belts were starting to succumb to the jungle and a number of yellow life jackets were randomly strewn about. The crash site was on Seli’s property – he owns vast amounts of jungle here.
This is a good place to be vegetarian – there are no animals in Misima and we are eating only what is grown on site – corn, potatoes, yams, wild greens, ginger, peppers, tomatoes, fried green bananas and taro root. Everything is cooked over open fires. Dried bamboo burns slowly and well.
We drink freely from any creek coming down the hillsides and bathe in the very cold streams. This is the rainy season and we try to clean up by 1 or 2pm at the latest – as by then the mountains are bathed in fog and it is often raining.