On December 7 I was able to partially fulfill my hearts desire by climbing up the notched mountain. This time I arranged with two different seminarians for them to guide me to the top. However, one was then enlisted to guide my rector into a remote mountain valley where the people had not seen a priest in 8 months (apparently administering the sacraments is more important than my leisure!) and the other went to a funeral without telling me. Yet, in this case the loosey-gooseyness of PNG nationals in regards to commitments worked in my favor this time, for I found a seminarian named Peter around the time I wanted to leave, who dropped whatever plans he had for the day in order to lead me up the mountain! This time it was just me and Annie; CC (now 5 months pregnant) decided to stay at home.
To get there, Peter lead me through his village, (he is from the same place as Eric). We were greeted warmly by the villagers, including his mother, but we were warned that we should have left at dawn if we wanted to go “on top.” Dawn afterall is when the middle-aged women leave to do their gardening. Undeterred, we started up the foothills, taking a different path than I had with Eric.
Peter should have brought a bushknife instead of an umbrella. The path was overgrown with sharp grasses that delivered paper cuts to bare hands and arms. Peter complained that locals cut down the trees in order to garden and then abandoned the gardens – thereby leading to erosion, loss of bird habitat, and poor hiking conditions. I found the hiking interesting, some times we walked through narrow gulleys (less than a foot wide, but only two feet deep) and often the grasses were over our head.
Here are some pictures of our trip up the foothills:
Once onto the mountain ridge we were in a rain forest. It was considerably cooler, which was refreshing. While we were out of the razor grass, there were still various thorns and sharp leaved plants to avoid, thus the flora kept me on my toes.
What should we find on the mountain ridge, but a well-maintained garden!
As we approached the top, I came to understand why the villagers said we should have started our hike at dawn – it often rains in the afternoon. Sure enough, our destination was wreathed in clouds.
As you can see, the trail was more a place where the water tended to run through the forest than a maintained path. This made for interesting hiking, including pulling myself up steep parts using roots and branches. I thoroughly enjoyed my adventure.
Often we came across signs of earlier farming, long abandoned. At one point, Peter said there had been a small village. However, one of the villagers raised large dogs and when he died, the dogs went feral and everyone left lest their children and livestock be eaten. For some time people would only go up the mountain in armed bands, but eventually the dogs were hunted down. The people did not return.
Finally we reached the top ridge. It was narrow – only about five feet across – and covered in a spongy moss that was a bit like walking on a waterbed. Care had to be taken, lest your moss gave way and you tumbled down the ridge. We had some neat partial views of the clouds passing through the cleft in the mountains:
And so we reached the top and had a chilly lunch of roast sweet potato and boiled eggs. Peter lit a small fire. We rested a bit. But the clouds deepened and revealed themselves to be rainclouds. So sadly, we had almost no view after all our hiking and had to descend the mountain in cold rain, which made the trail treacherously slick. Annie was not a happy hiker at this point, but she eventually feel asleep and I slowly picked my way down the mountain.
After an hour or two, the rain stopped and we emerged from rain forest and had a nice walk through the foothills to the main road:
Finally, we met up with a dirt road that led us by a protestant secondary school and a Catholic outstation to the main road. We rested and I bought some boiled peanuts to eat with Annie. They were served on a cabbage leaf and dressed with ginger and vinegar. Not bad. We waited for an hour for the Dean of Studies to pick us up. The locals seemed rather impressed that we had made it “on tap”, walking from Fatima. All in all, we hiked for about 9 hours.
I was quite grateful for the dinner CC had waiting for us.