“Rule Nambawan,” one of our New Guinean guides called over his shoulder as we trudged up a mountain, “Never look up. Longwe tumas. You lose strength.” He spoke a mixture of Tok Pisin and English, and I understood him perfectly: this trail was hard. It was the steepest trail I had ever seen. Barely wide enough for two hiking boots, it was surrounded by thick jungle and it went straight up. Leaning hard on my trekking poles, I wondered if the Papua New Guineans who used the trail to hunt and take their betel nut, peanuts, coffee beans, and cucumbers to the Port Moresby markets had ever heard of switchbacks. My dad and I had trained in Colorado and Montana, but we’d never seen a trail this rugged.
After two hours of tiresome climbing, we made it to the top of a high peak, and were rewarded with a view of the Kemp Welch River valley, green and dense. We enjoyed it for a while and soon began our descent – again straight down. All the roots and rocks that I had used for footholds on the way up were now my enemies. One slippery misstep and I’d be tumbling into the valley, possibly all the way to Goreba, our first village stop.
It wasn’t until day 6 that I developed what I called my “ jungle feet.” I learned instinctively to place my feet between the slick roots and rocks rather than on them, and I learned how to navigate the stretches of wet clay. I grew fast and efficient at climbing up and down the hills and peaks, and soon I was keeping up with our guides. I felt agile, strong, and exhilarated. Cresting a hill, I would hear our guides exclaim, There’s our lead girl!” I had earned their respect and a new nickname, “Strongpela Meri.”
Rule Nambawan- Rule #1
Longwe Tumas- Long way to go
Strongpela Meri- Strong girl