So we walked it. All 139,370 steps, according to my pedometer. The shortest day was only 5660 steps, the longest 23,332.
I started to upload some photos, but it was such a painful, laborious (and expensive) exercise, that I stopped pretty quickly — they will have to wait until the end of the month, when I pass through Australia. I thought I had a lot more to write about the Track, but not for now it seems. The photos will say enough.
What struck me most about the walk was how deeply storied the Track is — by the Australians, Japanese, and the local peoples. This is the tree stump Nishimura used as a reference during the Japanese night assault on this hill. This particular pool in the mountain creek we’re bathing in is where the Australians machine-gunned the starving Japanese soldiers as they looked through the rations the Australians had planted there on their retreat. This flat rock on the track was used as an operating table by a medical sergeant, who performed a leg amputation with a razor. Stories piled up upon bloody stories, filling the jungle.
These stories grow into myths, sometime deservedly so, sometimes not. A short interview with Paul Ham, author of Kokoda (an excellent read), talks about some of the myths of the Track. The diary of Yoshikazu Tamura is an interesting browse through a Japanese soldier’s experience of the war. An extract reads:
“The mountain peaks soar above the pointed white clouds, and they seem to belong to the mythical world. We have marched and climbed across those mountains, and the realisation astonishes me. Our feet have carried our goods and us so far. The altitude is not great, but the ascents and descents were very steep. We walk through scenery that reminds us of early autumn, with tassels of grass waving in the wind.
“It is May. In this foreign country, May is probably in autumn. We eat bananas and papayas.
“After the hardship of marching through these mountains, I miss the mountains at home.”
After the mountains, Kokoda itself was something of an anti-climax. We spent an hour among the four pillars at Isurava (Courage, Endurance, Mateship, Sacrifice), and then we descended, down, down, down through abandoned fields of choko vine gone mad. It was pouring rain as we walked along our first road in 10 days into the collection of run-down buildings called Kokoda.
Three hours by truck saw us in Popondetta: a hot shower, dinner, and a clean bed. The Australians and Japanese fought all the way to the north coast; we had it easy.