Heading to the start of the trek and flying over the forest canopy, I couldn’t help but wonder how we would ever find a place to land. The forest seemed to go on and on forever; the greenness subtly changed only by the shadows of the steep ridges and the deep valleys.
There were 8 of us, 9 with the pilot. We had arrived the day before from Vancouver and we were now heading to Kokoda to start the Kokoda Track. We quickly landed on a grass field (which felt completely surreal), climbed off the plane and headed to the meeting area where we were introduced to our porters and guides. And then, we were off.
The days on the track all seemed to roll into one another but looking back, there are definitely moments that are crystal clear and forever etched in my mind’s eye: Menari Village with the wonderful river where the children came to play in the water with us; the historical sites where we stopped to give pause to the memory of the people who sacrificed so much, losing their lives during the war; catching a glimpse of a Bird of Paradise through the trees, and the very early morning wakening to what sounded like gun fire (which had me awake in 2 seconds flat) but was actually a bird that our trek leader called ‘machine gun bird’. The camaraderie that developed amongst us all … the close calls – slipping, tripping, landing face first in a river during a river crossing (and yes … it was all me and not my porter’s fault although he definitely kept a closer handle on me after that!)
Kokoda is a challenge in every sense of the word. It challenges the physical and the mental self. Physically I was trained, however mentally, it was a journey unlike any I had undertaken before. Kokoda changes you, from the inside out and you don’t even realize that it’s happening. It is a slow dawning and awakening of the realization of your worth, of your physical ability, your mental grit and your sudden desire to take what you know about your world and look at it from a completely different perspective. It clarifies things.
Arriving home, I could not get the struggle of the people in the villages along the Kokoda Track out of mind. I emailed my contact in Port Moresby and after a few back and forth emails, was e-introduced to my now colleague, Jesse Leta, who resides in Port Moresby, PNG. Jesse and I have spent the better part of the last two years building the first wholly locally owned, led and operated tour operator on the Kokoda Track – Indigenous Kokoda Adventures. Up until now, tour operators have been foreign owned, contracting out the work to local people on the Track, perpetuating the cycle of poverty. Indigenous Kokoda Adventures offers authentic trekking experiences along the Track while directly supporting the people, villages and communities along the Track putting more money to work where it is needed while also keeping it in Papua New Guinea.
The porters and guides of Indigenous Kokoda Adventures have safely guided and supported trekkers along the Track for many years and have now stepped forward to reclaim their heritage and legacy. Their forefathers were the Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels who helped the Australian soldiers defend the Kokoda Track, Papua New Guinea and Australia from Japanese attack during WWII. Our guides and porters proudly carry their spirit in their hearts and help our trekkers understand the importance of where they are and what they are doing so they too can carry it with them when they return home.
The porters and guides of Indigenous Kokoda Adventures live on the Track and have for generations. Kokoda is home. No one knows their history or story like they do. And no one can tell their story better than they can. Our trekkers get the local perspective, not secondhand stories from someone who has never lived on the Kokoda Track, or in Papua New Guinea.
We also believe that the key to poverty reduction lies in education. For this reason, we have established a fully registered charitable foundation, the IKA Foundation, to assist with post primary education of the girls and boys along the Track and in certain outlying areas. We firmly believe that if our children are educated, boys and girls, it provides benefits for not only the children but the villages, communities and Papua New Guinea overall. We are very proud to say that we are assisting 3 children who are going on to Grade 9 this upcoming school year.
Kokoda is a very special place. There is no place like it on earth. Come. Be a part of our journey while we become part of yours.
- Deborah Campagnaro
- : Originally from southern Ontario, I have lived in northern Ontario, northern Manitoba and northern BC, eventually settling in Vancouver. My Indigenous heritage stems from the Mohawk First Nation and I understand the desperate need for change for many Indigenous people in many countries around the globe. Working with Jesse continues to be a new adventure in every respect. I am honoured and extremely proud to be on this journey and I look forward to watching the Indigenous people of Kokoda reclaim their heritage and legacy by standing tall and opening their arms to welcome the world to their home.
- : https://indigenouskokodaadventures.com/
- : https://www.facebook.com/indigenouskokodaadventures/
- : https://twitter.com/IndigenousKoko1
- : https://www.instagram.com/indigenouskokodaadventures/
- : People should pay a visit to our website to learn about the people of Kokoda, to understand what the history of the area is and to get to know us, Indigenous Kokoda Adventures. The website provides background to the story while also providing our look ahead to a future where the people of the Kokoda Track can stand tall, reclaiming their heritage and legacy. A future filled with hope for their children, for the villages and communities along the track and ultimately for the future of the people of Papua New Guinea.
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- : Parts of the blog post (some sentences and a few paragraphs) were originally published on our website, on our blog - Trail Mix.