Wednesday, 3 October 2012

POC: Outdoors

Our group ready to depart

PNG life is mostly outdoors as people work their gardens, travel about on foot and spend time storying  on village verandas. To get us fit for life here as well as to give us an appreciation for PNG life, we’ve spent a lot of time outdoors during POC. This has mostly taken the form of weekly hikes and swims. The hikes recently culminated in a three day hike around the area where POC is based.

About to descend from the mountain

Ugal leading the way

Resting by a beautiful creek

Wading upriver

Following the creek

The hikes started small, first just on the mountain top, then down the mountain, then down and up again…each hike a bit further and a bit harder. Finally was the three day hike. We went as two groups, each with a pair of national guides, a guy and a girl. Day one we went all the way down into the valley (POC is at 365m elevation), lunched by a river and then went on a little way to the village where we were staying in for the night. Our waspapa (host father) met us, showed us around and let us rest awhile before we chatted into the evening. The village was very quiet as most people had gone to the funeral of a three year old girl who had died of malaria. Death of children is always sad, but when it is of something largely preventable and treatable and the difficulty is in access to care, it is sad indeed.

Day two was the best day of the hike as we went over many ridges and stopped for a rest at a few creeks and waterholes. It was a day to appreciate the stunning beauty of this country. Ridges and valleys have different ecosystems. One ridge will be different to the next ridge. As we stop quietly by a waterhole butterflies and dragonflies flit about and land on us. A poisonous snake crossed the path but then wisely hid from us, for our guide with a bush knife was waiting for him to return. On the second night we chatted late into the night, an encouraging sign our Tok Pisin has improved as well as a reflection of local hospitality and welcome.

Day three was a long day of wading in rivers and getting back to our mountain top POC home. We started the day following a river, moved on to following a creek (slippery!), occasionally took steep ‘short cuts’ across ridges and finally faced the long, constant and at times very steep uphill back to POC. Yet again, we were surrounded by stunning beauty. After three days hiking my pack was a familiar presence and the weight did not bother me. After three days hiking I was running out of energy and the final uphill was a battle of will. One step at a time I made it to the top, drenched with sweat, but glad to have made it.

Although when hiking uphill I feel incredibly unfit, when we go swimming I feel the opposite. Each week we have gone to a nearby inlet, stretched a 100m rope out in the water and swum laps of it for fitness. The goal we were encouraged to reach was 1 mile (8 laps). I made that the first week and soon after made my ‘real’ mile (nautical) of 9 laps. All those years of swimming lessons paid off. While swimming I would lap people, while hiking I would be the slowest in the group… evidence I really am a coastal person and not a mountain person!

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