Dear family and friends,
September 16 is PNG’s Independence Day. This year was the 40th year anniversary of independence, and thus was marked with celebrations across the land. I decided to celebrate on top of a mountain! Ever since I have come to PNG, I have been intrigued by a mountain set apart from the others with a flat top that I see every time I go to Mt. Hagen city. This past September, I worked up the gumption to organize an expedition. It’s name is Olga, which means ‘top’ in the Melpa tongue. ‘Top’ in PNG is a superlative term, as when we say that someone is the top student. Thus, my plan for September 16 was to be atop our region’s Top mountain.
First, Annie and I went to Warup parish at the base of the mountain on Sunday September 13 in order make arrangements for the expedition. We went with the parish priest, Fr. Michael, one of the older national priests in the diocese, to mass at two of his outstations. He recommended the first as the starting point for our expedition. (I’m afraid that I’ve forgotten the names of the outstations). They were excited that Annie and I were there with them:
The people were happy too that I planned to come back and go on a hike. I got the number of the local catechist and he promised to arrange guides for us. The second outstation was more modern. They had a pre-mass praise and worship session with a praise band, complete with drums. I’m afraid that I only got pictures of me and the parishioners outside the church and of a baby cassowary running around outside.
And here is the view of Mt. Olga from the second outstation.
Though we did not go to mass at the main station, Annie and I poked our heads in the parish church. It was one of the most lovely churches I’ve seen in PNG. The floors were just redone and the pews still needed to returned.
On Independence Day itself, my family and I attended an early mass at the seminary which concluded with a flag-raising and national anthem singing, then I went to Kudjip Missionary Hospital to carpool with the hikers among them, then we met up with some Swiss volunteers from Missionary Aviation Fellowship, then left one car by the main station and drove the other to the first outstation, since our intention was to walk across the mountain-top and come down the other side. Needless to say, all this celebrating, gathering, and shuttling took awhile and we did not actually start our hike until late morning. With some sadness, I left the girls at home with Rebecca, (they went to a small sing-sing in Banz), and I was glad I did, for the climb up was often very steep:
About a third of the way up, there was a large clearing with great views.
At the top of the clearing was a small prayer house and sing-sing ground. A group from the Catholic outstation had rebuilt it earlier in the week and then had slept/keep a prayer vigil there overnight. Now they were celebrating PNG’s independence by singing praise songs and dancing! They remembered that we were coming and even prepared a little welcome song and dance to greet us with:
They also gathered a large amount of fruit to give to us. Here is what was left after we all took what we wanted.
The local leader gave us a welcome speech, but expressed a doubt whether we would actually get to the top! He said that some of the locals had cleared the way to the top for us. All in all, I was very humbled by the way these people welcomed us. Sometimes people paint PNG nationals as always eager to make money by charging people for walking across their land – that has NEVER been my experience in all the hikes I’ve been on.
The way up to the summit was even steeper:
The jungle was gorgeous.
We finally reached the top around 2:30 pm. The views were amazing, though a storm was rolling in.
The next part of our hike was pleasant walk across the mostly flat and forested mountaintop in the driving rain. By flat, I mean a very steep drop to the right or left, but not much up and down walking straight. I was glad I had left the girls at home, since they would have been cold and wet. Then we got to the turnoff to head to the main station or back to the outstation. Our guides were very frank with us that we would only reach the main station long after dark since we had started so late and were so slow in our hiking. So, we went back down to the outstation via a different trail. It was quite the challenge: steep and wet with almost nothing to hold onto. Les, the man in the orange shirt in the group photo (a short-term maintenance project supervisor at Kudjip), ended up rolling much of the way down! Thankfully, no one was hurt.
As we were reaching the bottom, the rain let up.
And the colors of the valley were vibrant
Once at the bottom, we were met by a happy crowd of people returning from their Independence Day festivities. We took up a collection for our guides, unshuttled the cars, and headed for home. Our guides had been right about the time, we got home well after dark, tired from our exhilarating Independence Day activities. Rebecca had put the girls to bed and had prepared an entire chicken bbq pizza for me, by which I refreshed my weary soul!