Thursday, August 1, 2013

Part 2 of 3: First Descent of the Grand Canyons of the Chimbu - Papua New Guinea.

The second day of our descent of the Chimbu started with a light sprinkle of rain and much to my delight, no damn roosters! I selfishly waited out the drizzle in my tent and when I finally emerged, the day was spectacular. A small child ushered me to the small thatched hut, where we had chatted away the previous evening, and handed me a perfect cup of tea and honey. I had talked about how much I loved it and Ari even motivated and made Pat one too. Talk about hospitality, this place was awesome. But what wasn't awesome was Matt's stomach. I rounded the corner and found a pretty glum looking Matt... I will let him tell you what was up.

So we made our preparations after some marginal 'tropical meusli' and UHT milk for breakfast, getting ready for another exciting day. As we were putting the last of our gear into the kayaks we heard a faint murmur in the wind, which was coming from the small primary school next door. This is what we seen

After this warming experience it was time to get back to business. Matt was, as aforementioned, feeling ill so we weren't too sure how far we should push him as we figured we might have another 3-5 days on the river. We agreed to take it slow and just stop at our check points and reassess our situation each time. We had 3 road/river intersections in the 20(ish)km's is was down to Banana Market, so plenty of options to take off if Matt further deteriorated. We wanted to complete the trip as a team so if one person needed a days rest we'd all take one.

Good to go (p. Ari)

Barny on round two under the log (p. Matt Coles)

Me following suit (p. Matt Coles)

Things started off well, the stellar section down to Gembogl Station and another amazing reception. This time Barny went for the roll under the log, but pulled off a smooth brace (not going completely over) and avoided the terrible contact with the rocks we met the previous day. Immediately selling it to me and then Ari. Matt, sick, out of his boat taking snaps, over whelmed by children and with the feeling of yesterdays collision still tingling in his shoulder... decided to portage and while doing so was convinced by the local teacher to get us to stop and have a talk to the school and community. Which of course we obliged.

More goods on the Chimbu (p. Barny)

Barny was in his element, being a school teacher after all. We had around 100 kids sitting down soaking up our every word, even if they didn't understand it, with the village adults standing and eagerly listening. We talked to them about how we loved the Chimbu Province, particularly their area, and what we were hoping to achieve. We fielded questions about teaching, aimed at Barny and farming aimed at me, which were hard to answer considering my background was in intensive dairy farming and they are an agrarian type community. I just reiterated that their produce was much healthier and better quality than the sort of produce in the populous western world. And one thing they should strive to keep is that quality. Anyway, after our talk and a MASSIVE game of "duck, duck... goose" set up by Barny, we had to get back on the river and make some downstream movement. That is exactly what we did! Class IV for hours... all read and run, which was definitely to Matt's liking. Our progress was much faster than what we thought, reaching the first rendezvous point in under two hours. We were all happy to keep going, so keep going we did.

Jungle overlapping the edges, the jungle is scary... (p. Ari)

Checking out the scenery (p. Barny)

By the time we reached the second point, some 3 hours later, Matt was definitely feeling it. Barny and I had several chat's about whether we should just stop before even reaching the next intersection but Matt assured us he was good enough to keep going. Toni and some locals told us it wasn't far to Banana Market from here. Ha, we'd heard this one before, and I wasn't prepared to push Matt any further. But after several questions, it was sounding like it was actually only about 1-2km downstream. Walking time 15-20 minutes, driving time only like 5 minutes and it is very close... Barny and I, as always, thought we should try push it out as we had plenty of daylight left but in the end it was entirely up to Matt. He went over the usual questions to ensure that the distance to Banana Market was what they were saying it was. Eventually he was also convinced so we set out on the last 'short' leg down to Banana Market. It was as short as they said, but we forgot to ask what the character of the river was like. Turns out this would be one of the more full on sections we would paddle on the Chimbu.

 A clear illustration of the 'angry locals' we'd encounter (p. Jordy)

Pretty much as we rounded the next corner the river steepened up and it stayed like this all the way to Banana Market. Each horizon line we came to we figured was the last so we kept pushing on, all with poor old Matt getting dragged down by the boys. He held it together though, styling pretty much everything we can too but just with a little less 'wild-bill' vigor. It all went well until pretty much the last rapid above Banana Market. Barny over-committed to what was the biggest rapid of the day and being the good friend I am, I paddled in straight behind him. Definitely more than we bargained for but it all worked out pretty well, for us anyway. We immediately eddied out down stream and set safety for the boys. Ari the Curry had a quick browse on his and Matt's behalf and then the boys bombed in. Ari cant of looked to well because he immediately lead Matt down a wrong chute and then got pinned on river right, fortunately Matt kept on line and got passed. Ari was caught in a funny position, for one he was pinned which was bad enough but then he had 3 locals that were making their way into the violent waters to 'rescue him'. For those who aren't so PNG savvy, if something happened to one of those locals while trying to 'rescue' Ari there would be a retribution... and it would be severe. Fortunately Barny sprang into action and whipped up the river to Ari's aid and was able to get a bag to him and pull him off to the safety of the bank. Once we regrouped I, with permission, whipped through a villages garden to scout out the next series of rapids. Much to our delight I could see the Banana Market bridge downstream. This news lit up the boys eyes and we all had good lines through the last set of rapids, even if my description of the rapid was a little brief.

Ari mobbing into a step section (p. Barny)

The few km's above Banana Market had some 
solid class IV - V (p. Barny)

Barny and me probing into another steep section, much
to Matt's delight (p. Matt Coles)

Toni's ever present grin and wave greeted us at our take out and we all jumped out of our boats stoked with what we'd achieved that day, most of all that Matt was able to battle through with us. Barny's coarse banter immediately begin, and poor old Ari had to suffer it. We quickly loaded the truck without getting changed and began to drive towards Toni's cousin's place. Even though he toughed it out, Matt was still worse for wear so we discussed the idea of going down to Kundiawa for a night. The idea of a bed, safe water and a somewhat more relaxed mental space sounded good to all of us and would do wonders for Matt. Not to hard of a decision really, so we made our way back to Kundiawa to recharge for a night and would return the next day to take on the hardest sections of the river. Or so we thought.

The volume increased as we went, making things much more pushy 
the further we made it down the Chimbu (p. Matt Coles)
After another night on the Back Country meals complemented by extra rice, kau kau (kumara or sweet potato) and some bottled water, we all went to bed nice and early with the intention of leaving around 7am the next day. Karma was about to get me for not getting sick during our 2011 expedition, and it got me pretty damn good. Just before the witching hour I was woken up by a terrible pain in my stomach, not too uncommon of a feeling in PNG. I made my way to the bathroom, but that wouldn't fix it. Nothing would. Five hours, and say 15 trips to the bathroom later, I was a shivering mess. Broken from no sleep and must of been close to dehydration, I tried to rally but my heart and soul wasn't in it. Matt was back to about 80% but I was hovering at like 60%... not a good combination for what could be a really long day with a brutal portage. Not wanting to put ourselves at any extra risk, we made the decision to give ourselves one more days rest. We would be returning to finish the Chimbu the next day, whether some one missed out or not....

 The two sicko's just hanging out (p. Ari)

 Our $100 NZD a night accommodation... and boy did I appreciate it! (p. Matt Coles)

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