I trust that everyone has had a happy Christmas, and that you are all gearing up for 2007 (can’t believe it’s here already!).
The condensed version for the screen-reading-averse… I spent Christmas Eve and Christmas day walking up the volcanic mountain on Kolombangara Island
, which is next to Ghizo Is. and about 1700 m high.
It was a great walk (with the exception of a few minor details, more below), and I think my legs have almost recovered, a week later. Other than that it’s been a pretty quiet week in the office, only tropical infections and tropical downpours to contend with. It’s raining lots at the moment, so a perfect day for sitting around writing blogs.
OK, more detail now…
Last Saturday I rode over to the beach on the other side of the island again, and swam out to the reef off the coast. Saw my first ray (a Spotted Eagle Ray), coral being grown on concrete disks, a couple of little nudibracts (I think), and a really cool coral formation with a cloud of little blue fish swarming around and through it. I forgot to put sunscreen on my back, resulting in a spectacular burn just in time to spend a couple of days walking with a backpack…
On Saturday evening we (NZ RAMSI called Andy and I) headed over to Iri Iri village on Kolombangara Island. We had to arrive after 6 as they are Seventh Day Adventists, so can’t take guests/tourists from Friday evening – Saturday evening. We stayed in the rest house; a very basic building with a trestle table, but nothing to sleep on. I had heard that they weren’t very keen or well set up for tourists, and this certainly seems to be true. I’m not sure if they’re not interested, or if they just don’t really know what would improve their operation. Or maybe they just figure that they’ve got a virtual monopoly on the walking up Kolombangara trade and don’t need to do anything else… We chatted to some of the people from the village for a while about the walk and life in Iri Iri in general, then had a quick dinner (cold baked beans on bread) and had an uncomfortable night’s sleep being smoked out by Andy’s mozzie coils.
We woke up early and set off on the walk with a guide (Gule) and two extra people to help carry stuff (George and Zino). We figured that we probably only needed one, but hired a second just in case. We took way too much gear (in my opinion); a tent and thermarest-type sleeping mats, and all sorts of stupidly heavy food (Andy had said that we needn’t bother buying anything as they had heaps of stuff to take at their house… ended up being lots of tins and ration packs). The first bit of the walk wandered past a few gardens and through a little bit of regrowth. I was feeling a bit tired and spectacularly uncoordinated (lack of caffeine? Sunstroke from the day before? Mozzie coil poisoning?), and I managed to fall over about 10 minutes in, scraping and bruising my shin, corking my quad muscle, and straining my shoulder. At this point I was glad we had a second person to help, and handed over my pack. Felt very pathetic, but I think I would have had to turn back otherwise.
The next part of the walk was bloody terrible, I have to say. Two hours of walking up an old logging road completely covered in a vine, which was purpose-made for tripping up clumsy walkers. It was really hot, and I think I fell over about five times. It was also just really sad to be walking through a vine monoculture, not really able to see any bush, while hearing from the guide how the MP of the time had given permission for the logging company to go in, and the landowners had not received any benefits at all. A pretty standard story, I think…
I cheered up considerably one we got into the bush – lots of shade, welcome distractions (lots of interesting plants, heaps of moss, nice views), and no bloody vines. Basically we went up a bit, down a bit, crossed a river, then up a really steep bit of track for around two hours to reach the camp in about five hours. Andy really didn’t enjoy the last climb, which made me feel better about not enjoying the logging road! The camp site was really nice – an open grassy spot with a view down to Iri Iri and across to Gizo. We shared camp with a community of orb-weavers (see photo), lots of frogs, some bush rats and lots of birds flying past. After a bit of a rest Gule and I wandered down to the stream to wash and get some water. Then a camp feast – Andy cooked up some mince he’d taken with noodles, and I shared my weird ration-pack sausage meal and some tinned fish with Gule, George Zino in exchange for some of their rice.
The tents (or one tent and a tarp) were set up while we were at the stream, and by the time I got back from a gentle wander to take photos everyone was working hard, checking that the tarp provided adequate shade…
After not-very-much-sleep I got up early, in time to catch sunrise and join in the Christmas morning prayer. I’m not sure if it was the blessing we sought or the vanilla coffee, but I felt a bit more coordinated than the previous day. A quick breakfast of a little box of cornflakes (remember those ones you used to take on family camping trips?) and heaps of tinned apricot (funny the kinds of food that end up being exciting over here), then off to the top to try to beat the cloud which rolls in over the mountain-top most days. It took about an hour and a half to reach the top, and it was like an alien landscape up there. Everything was completely covered in moss, quite a bit of bamboo, and very eerie feeling. It was a bit hazy and cloudy, but I still really enjoyed it. I’ve put up a couple of photos of the top, with Gule, and Andrew near the top.
Andy had the shits because he wouldn’t use the local facilities, preferring to wait until he got back (he informed me on the way down that the record for holding on was 24 days, which is how long they’re allowed to detain a suspected drug smuggler while waiting for the evidence to come to pass…). So it’s no joke – RAMSI really are careful about what they take and leave behind!
We stopped in at the camp on the way back down, and I had my Christmas lunch with Gule at around 9:30 – masses of rice and tinned salmon (thanks RAMSI). The other boys had already eaten, and Andy was sticking to low-volume-high-energy muesli bars. Then back to Iri Iri – I was a bit slower than Andy and the boys, enjoying the bush before getting back to the road. I caught the end of a bamboo band performance when I got back to Iri Iri, then straight on the boat and back to Gizo.
All in all a good trip, and I think my leg muscles have almost recovered now. I’ve got a lovely tropical infection from the scrape, and am on my first dose of antibiotics since getting here. This required a trip to the hospital, which accidentally has caused me to test my allergy to penicillin – but that will have to be the subject of a later post because it’s hot, the air-con doesn’t seem to be working, and so I think I’ll go home. The tropical rain from this morning, which was keeping things cool, has finished and the building is like a sauna.