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Afawa cave trekking – An outdoor adventure next door to Port Moresby!
THE trek up to Doe village about 80 kilometres from Sogeri is nothing like I anticipated. The day before we left I didn't give this trek much thought, thinking that it was going to be fairly easy for me. In fact, November 15th and 16th are days I will remember as the most excruciating and challenging of my life. It is also the time I will remember as having the longest walk ever!
For anyone who wants to know, we did a marathon walk (80 kilometre in just two days) on the old dirt and worn out road along the Koitaki cattle farm, passed Itikinumu and the old rubber plantations after Kailaki village and across the vast Mushgrave River passed a few villages to our sojourn, Prince William Primary School in Doe village where we visited the amazing Afawa bat cave.
Trekkers included me, Alison, Pam Christie, Mark Hitchkock, Michael Murphy and Peter.
We met at the Pacific View Apartment at 4.45am and drove up to Sogeri Hydrophonics Farm where we start trekking.
The road we were walking is arguably the first established highway in the Central province and the Papuan Region before Papua New Guinea gained Indpendence in 1975. It was supposedly established by expatriates who came to grow rubber in the area but left soon after PNG got its independence.
25 years ago villagers had access to transport services but that is hardly the case today. The road is completely run down and almost impassible for motor vehicles. Villagers in Doe and neighboring areas have no choice but to walk 8 hours each day to get to Sogeri and catch a PMV to Port Moresby.
And that is exactly what we did over the weekend when trekking up to Doe.
For an adventurous weekend this seems like the alternative next door trekking where outdoor fanatics can enjoy the countryside views of the Koitaki farm and the Itikinumu grassland and beautiful savanna surroundings.
Pam had organized local porters and guides from Doe village who accompanied us on the way. The first hour of the trek was fairly easy since we started early. But in no time the sun was up and heat started bearing down on us. The next three hours we were at the mercy of the sun and with unreliable supply of water on the way – I had two water bags, one was in my back pack and lasted till we reached the next river.
The heat was unbearable and I started to experience blisters on the soles of my feet. I took off my shoes while we stopped and start rubbing Vaseline on both. The pain was trivial but that didn’t stop the heat. The ground we were treading on was hard clay but we soon encounter sharp stones on the way.
For 40 kilomtres each way we were doing seven hours if not eight in a day and Pam had informed us that we had to make it to Doe before six. So that meant walking for the most parts and so little time for resting. Our first stop was by the bridge under a rewarding shade of clustered bamboo trees. We had some snacks and after a deserving rest we were out again in the sun.
The blisters on my feet made it almost impossible for me to walk. I walked with difficulty and soon after that I was disappointed when my right knee and legs started to hurt.
I was the last on the line and my porter was with me all the time urging me carry on. I stopped again for a while, took off my shoes and start rubbing Vaseline against the blisters.
After that I started walking, and quite oblivious to my painful feet I pushed on ahead till I reached the other trekkers and then went ahead towards the river – an old picnic spot, where the old bridge was. It was fine spot with evident brick walls and water pipes but overgrown with vegetation.
“This used to be a favourite picnic spot for expatriates and many who live in the city. People loved these place and every weekend like this you would see cars parked over there under the trees – that was the parking area,” Peter one of the guides said wishfully.
Peter 35, from Doe had a car and used to enjoy driving back and forth from Doe to Port Moresby. His car has long broken down and he says it was useless to get another one since the road conditions were bad. Like everyone else he too walk all the way to Sogeri.
After lunch we had a refreshing swim in the river which was quiet deep. From here another four hours walk towards Doe village. We passed by old rubber plantations on our way and make our way to Mushgrave River for a boots-off crossing. The current here was quiet strong and the villagers explained that it is only twice as strong when it was raining.
We reached Doe at 3.45 and had a good rest under the rain trees. I lay down on my back pack and almost went to sleep when Pam suggested it was time to go and visit the cave. Despite the pain on my knee and blisters on my leg and the nagging headache, I went with them since I didn’t want to miss any of this.
Mike stayed back while the rest of us headed for the cave. It was a horrendous 45 minutes steep climb uphill and downhill and across a few rivers towards the cave.
We went through a garden and passed by a huge boulder on the way, crossed the last creek and then a grinding climb up towards the cave. When we neared the cave we noticed many gorges in between rocks we passed.
Finally when we reached the cave it was just amazing! Afawa cave as the villagers call it was the highest peak of our adventure. It became a real thrill for me.
From the mouth of the cave we couldn't see or make out who or what was beyond. It was just total blackness and you were lucky if you have your flashlight with you.
To go through the entrance was bit of a hardwork. Big rocks blocked the mouth of the cave so we used cane support and one by one started to lower ourselves below towards the entrance. Two local boys went in first without using rope and waited below. Pam was the first to go down followed by me, Peter and Mark.
Once I was down one of the porters directed me towards the entrance. A huge boulder lay blocking the entrance and I had to make my way around it, literally squeezing through to arrive at the main entrance - only this time it appeared real and very big
with an eerie blackness beyond.
From where I stood I could hear bats which may have been disturbed by our appearance, flying about inside.
Having never visited a cave before I was a bit nervous but also very curious to see what was inside. I flashed the flash light I was holding onto inside the cave half expecting to see some figure inside the cave. It didn't help and went as far 6 feet from where I was.
I was debating whether to go in or not when suddenly I saw a tiny red lights like sparks of gold in front of me. I must have stood still and stared at it for some time because Pam started urging me to move on and when I turned I saw Peter and Mark behind her. Wide-eyed, I looked to her and said: "Did you see that?" and start pointing to where the spark of light was. I was surprised when she and Peter burst out laughing. "Alison that is a light from a flashlight," she said explaining that one of the porter on the side of the rock was flashing it our way so we can go through.
Once we are inside we hear bats though we didn’t see them flying around us. I couldn't work out if they were big or not and one came so close I could almost feel it brushing past me. As we proceeded further in we surprisingly came upon a wide open space with huge pillars of almost white stones almost like sprouting forth from the ground and a roof top quiet as high as that of a castle.
It was cold and eerie inside, bat droppings everywhere and we could see small openings on the roof top and the light from outside.
"Oh look at that!" Peter exclaimed and pointed towards the roof top. Pam flashed her lights towards where Peter was pointing and he objected almost immediately. "No Pam switch of your flash lights and see there", he said directing us to where the light from outside was coming through the gap. "You can't see it with your flashlights on."
And he was right. Two minutes later we watched in total amazement as almost huge wings flapped about above. If you watched closely you would see that the light from outside outline their figures perfectly.
It was just amazing but what totally intrigued me were the pillars of stones which stood as if erected in the middle of the cave. They had all shapes and I was even more surprised when I went closer and shone a flashlight on it. There were hundreds if tiny sparkles over it. The guides identified this as limestone.
Unfortunately we didn't go to the other side - where the water mouth was. It was getting a little late and so Pam suggested that we head back towards the camping area and we did.
Once at the camp we told Mike about it. I tell him about the bats and the pillars of stone....and in the end muttered "It is hardwork going up but you weren't regret it. To me it was worth it!"
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