Finding My Footing
Welcome to our blog ‘Trail Mix’. We are very excited to have our digital doors open to the world and we welcome you to our website!
I had the pleasure of completing the Kokoda Track in 2017. I will be honest, when I was in the middle of it ‘pleasure’ probably wasn’t the first word that came to mind. Since then however, many things have changed, my perspective in particular and for me, the Kokoda Track now sets the bar for all other treks in physicality and sheer mental grit. Yes there are treks that offer higher ascents and deeper descents but when you put everything together that make up Kokoda, nothing else comes close.
I hope you find my contribution to our inaugural blog, ‘Finding my Footing’ helpful in offering you a mental glimpse of what being on the Kokoda Track is like; trust me though, although everyone’s experience will be different, the feeling of accomplishment when you reach the finish line will feed your soul forever.
Finding My Footing
Heading to the start of the trek and flying over the forest canopy, I couldn’t help but wonder how we would ever find a place to land. The forest seemed to go on and on forever, the greenness subtly changed only by the shadows of the steep ridges and the deep valleys. It felt a bit surreal that we were actually in Papua New Guinea and I was sitting in a tiny eleven passenger plane being flown by someone who really didn’t look old enough to be the pilot. I was seriously tempted to ask him if his mother knew where he was and what he was doing.
There were 8 of us, 9 with the pilot, and 10 if you counted the young man who managed to talk his way onto the plane and wrangle a flight to Kokoda out of our guide and the pilot. Rob, my husband, and I had arrived the day before from Vancouver and we were now heading to Kokoda to start our most challenging trek yet, the Kokoda Track.
After a couple of stomach dropping turns we began our descent and a small landing strip appeared, right in the middle of nowhere. After landing we climbed out of the plane and grabbed our backpacks, heading toward the crowd as they moved toward the plane. Things felt very surreal. We could see that there were some guides waiting for us and our group headed in their direction. After a few minutes of getting organized the leader/guide said to follow him (and since he had ‘Follow Me’ on the back of his shirt it seemed like a good idea) and away we went.
After a short walk we veered in towards a rest area where there were a number of other people waiting for us. Our leader/guide (the ‘Follow Me’ person) introduced himself and we all lined up in a row. As our leader assigned a porter to each one of us, they stepped forward to greet us, and I first met my porter who was to be my personal porter. I didn’t know it then, but he would save me from much damage to my physical self, many times over the course of the next few days. I also came to the shocking realization that although I had found out the previous evening when meeting the rest of the trekkers in our group that I was the only female trekker, it was suddenly glaringly obvious that I was the ONLY female in this ENTIRE group of about 27 people. Yikes! So many thoughts raced through my head. Definitely more on this later.
Away we went, our porters in front of each of us carrying our backpacks which I was now feeling rather sheepish about everything I had brought that I maybe didn’t really need. I definitely know better now. Before I knew it we were on The Track and then suddenly we were in the thick of this tropical rainforest.
The days on the Track all seemed to roll into one another but looking back, there are definitely moments that are crystal clear and forever etched in my mind’s eye: Menari Village with the wonderful river where the children came to play in the water with us, the historical sites that gave pause to the memory of the people who sacrificed so much and lost their lives during the war, catching a glimpse of a Bird of Paradise through the trees (thank you to my porter for pointing it out to me), the very early morning wakening to what sounded like gun fire (which had me awake in 2 seconds flat) but was actually a bird that our trek leader called ‘machine gun bird’ and how he was laughing when he told us (I still think he was pulling our leg about the name and we all had a really good laugh about it, many times and probably at our expense!) The camaraderie that developed amongst us all … the close calls – slipping, tripping, landing face first in a river during a river crossing (and yes … it was me, I zigged when I should have zagged and it was not my porters fault although he definitely kept a closer handle on me after that!)
The difficulty of the journey: the humidity, the mud, the rocks, the tree roots, the climbing. Nothing prepared us for the difficulty and the unforgiving nature of The Track. Physically I was trained but mentally, it was a journey unlike any I had undertaken before.
Kokoda is a challenge in every sense of the word. It challenges the physical self and the mental self. Kokoda changes you, from the inside out and you don’t even realize that it’s happening. It is a slow dawning and awakening of the realization of your worth, of your physical ability, your mental grit and your sudden desire to take what you know about your world and look at it from a completely different perspective. It clarifies things.
The guides and porters that helped us along The Kokoda Track were amazing men. I mentioned before that I was the only woman on this trip and I have to say, every single man acted like a gentleman (with maybe my husband being the usual exception!), and I never felt uncomfortable for a minute. In fact, I would have no hesitation putting either of my daughters in their care knowing they would be taken care of and could complete their journey with these men of honour.
The guides and porters of Indigenous Kokoda Adventures are the descendants of the original Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels. These men have carried the legacy in their hearts for all these years. They have worked as guides and porters for at least a decade for foreign tour operators carrying on the tradition and their legacy with every step on the Track. They are now stepping forward to carry on the tradition of their forefathers.
This is an absolutely authentic way of travelling while giving back to local communities. The funds raised from tour fees go to the villages and communities, not outside tour operators. There is no middle man and there are no other layers of ‘middle’ to pay for. This is also historically significant as Indigenous Kokoda Adventures is the first Indigenous people in Papua New Guinea to start their own tour operating company along the Kokoda Track.
As I mentioned before, I would trust these gentlemen with my daughters’ lives. If you are ever considering Papua New Guinea as a destination, I urge you to consider a trek along The Kokoda Track with Indigenous Kokoda Adventures. Not much in this life is guaranteed, but I do guarantee this. You will not return home the same person. Your journey is waiting for you on the Kokoda Track. Come. Find yourself.