(from Monday, October 31)
I hiked alone from our house, out through the gate that surrounds the center, accompanied only by my newly acquired bush knife and bilum. The sun was shining and the clouds disappearing. I knew it was going to be hot.
I followed an old road that is now only a path on a mission to learn Tok Pisin. After a ten minute hike the road ended and twin trails split from it. I knew each led to a different house line, but which should I take this day? Looking up, I spotted a lone national man standing on a ridge along the path to my right. That decided it for me. I went his direction.
I stopped and greeted him and tried unsuccessfully to start up a good conversation. He appeared to be waiting for someone, or something, but I’ll never know what. I moved on down the trail.
The trail followed the ridge before taking a dip into a shallow valley and climbing another hill. Atop that hill stood the beginning of a long line of houses. Down this line of houses I went talking with anyone and everyone. I spent a good portion of the morning with one young man who showed me his house and many of his possessions. I already had met this man once before, a meeting that found me trading my flip flops for a decorative spear.
Morning came and went and I knew it was time to return home. That was when trouble struck.
I was passing by the final house along this house line, on my way back, when a familiar woman met me on the trail. She was of Tom and Ben’s family (whom I’ve previously blogged about) and told me I should go find the two guys on my way back. She told me not to take the mountain trail on my return, but to take the garden trail and I would find them. “Sure,” I said thinking, easy enough! The problem was the path doesn’t just split once, it splits twice.
The first split I knew which way to go. To the right was the way I had come (the mountain road), therefore the left was the way I must go. At the next split I was less certain. Actually, I was completely uncertain. I had taken the path to the right before and I knew it was a shortcut back but I also knew there weren’t any gardens along it for the first half of the distance home. The path to the left was unknown to me. I took a few steps down it and realized it ran along the western edge of a big garden. This had to be ‘the garden path’. How wrong I was.
I kept my gaze on the garden as I meandered down the trail but no soul met my eyes. Eventually the garden ended but the trail, smaller now, kept on. I had already come a ways and had no intention of back-tracking, especially since that would mean going back uphill. The trail was in the woods now, down in a valley between two hills. I persevered on, into the unknown, despite the slow disappearance of my path. A giant spider web stretched across the path in front of me confirming what I had been suspecting for a while. No one uses this path anymore.
I was too stubborn to turn back, and besides, I had my brand new bush knife to try out. Hacking a web apart is about as fulfilling as it sounds, but better just that than stumbling across a deadly snake. I knew roughly where I was. I knew following the valley would put me close to home and in familiar territory again. I went on.
Its hard traversing this land without a path. Its not thick jungle like I’ve seen in South America, but there’s enough waist high grasses, prickly bushes, and clustered trees to make it difficult. I remember swatting at least three different spiders off me and numerous times considering turning back. What kept me moving forward was the certainty that a journey backwards would be a much longer route home.
I suddenly found myself amidst someone’s coffee garden and the going became considerably easier. Although, I was worried I would be discovered in the middle of this garden off a public path and figured that would probably be seen as suspicious activity. No one witnessed my going until I exited the garden and found myself in a familiar yard.
The national man who was owner of the yard heard me from inside his house and came out to investigate. “Did you come from the path or from the bush?” the man asked. “From the bush,” I answered sheepishly. I told him my story and we had a good laugh. After a few minutes I got back on the real ‘garden path’ that goes right by his house and down into other gardens–where I found Tom.