The cloud hands heavy in the valley and for a few moments we are concerned about whether any flights will happen today. Then a couple of purple green peaks float into view and disappear again in the washed out morning light, a good sign the breeze is working for us and will clear this cloud out of the way soon enough. Breakfast is held after the usual fashion, we take some final photos, Lee calls “one minute” for the last time and we walk down to the airport in slow motion.
There is no rush, no departure time and we wander up the airfield to the southern, most elevated end. “Departures” is a date palm plantation that grows right up to the edge of the strip, with the convenience of a high roofed, unwalled shelter should it rain. It does not. A bunch of kids have walked through two days before us and are waiting for their aircraft. They are accompanied by Cec Discoll of the 39th battalion (B Company no less) and his buddy from the 53rd Battalion. Both of these boys are in their nineties but are remarkably spritely and are keenly interested in the experiences of the trekkers. They are loving the fact that young Australians are coming up here and walking the track. Cec tells us he has a renewed faith in the youth of today when sees them leave their creature comforts to slug it out on the track. He asks our two youngest how they fared and assures them they could have been capable of doing what the boys of his generation did.
We are told to prepare for the track and we do so with lots of training. ‘Beware the track’ is not an idle warning. But we were never prepared for the emotion. That always catch us out. The track surprises us with unexpected emotional moments and meeting these men was another of them, especially given we thought we were simply getting on our planes and heading on out. Cec was one of the men who had first contact with the Japanese. Who would have guessed our connecting with him like this and in this place?
We pile into Twin Otter aircraft and launch rapidly out of Kokoda, spiral thrice to gain altitude then point south to Moresby. The village of Denali is briefly visible through the cloud and then the range is blotted out by cloud. The just as suddenly it clears and Naguli and Efogi are visible, so too Myola 1 and Myola 2 and Irobaiwa. How strange to see the track unravel in this way, so quickly. How obscene.
Too soon we are on the tarmac at Port Moresby and scrambling to get into the shade. And then before we know it we are in the pool playing with some kids from Lae, one of which is called Willie Mason. First name mind you. He tells me his family loves Australian NRL. No kidding! The boy is a heavy eye-browed, head shaven, big grin six year old with coal black eyes that sparkle in his broad face. His mouth is missing most of its teeth so the footballer image is complete. How far we have some in a week, for now a chat with Willie Mason is built on a bond with its people built up through the porters and the villagers we have met.
We say farewell numerous times but make a more formal closure with our porters and Trekmaster Alan when Alan presents us with certificates of completion and we hear the porters sing for the last time. The poolside arena falls silent as they share their song with everyone. I feel jealous – these harmonies are for us are they not? Then we are done and despite our desire to hang onto any last vestiges of the trip we have to admit it’s over and we start to go our separate ways. So this is done as well. Farewell.
Photos: Peter Irving, Chris Gersch
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