Walking with Ghosts in Papua New Guinea
By Callum McLaughlin
Rick Antonson has traveled to parts of the world that are not simply exotic but sometimes damned near inaccessible. He has climbed to the summit of Mount Ararat in eastern Turkey, traveling beyond to Iraq and Iran and Armenia.
He has undertaken an improbable overland journey to the ancient city of Timbuktu, an enlightening look into efforts to preserve the city’s priceless manuscripts. Now he has traversed the notorious Kokoda Trail in Papua New Guinea, a country some call “the last wild place on earth.”
|Deep in the Jungles of New Guinea|
The trail is a narrow, 60-mile footpath featuring rough jungle, 6,000 feet in elevation change, and punishing weather extremes. In a country unfairly locked in Western misperceptions, the track is inhospitable terrain yet home to hospitable indigenous peoples, who live among the rusting reminders of the Japanese, Australian, and American armies that clashed in some of the deadliest protracted combat of World War II.
In Walking with Ghosts in Papua New Guinea, Antonson shares a journey of physical and mental endurance in his inimitable way, in the company of a mixed band of resolute adventurers, blending fascinating historical context with the tribulations of unexpected discoveries in faraway lands.
EXCERPT FROM THE BOOK
“I found the Kokoda trail listed among ‘the toughest and most dangerous treks in the world’ As Monk noted, a number of people have died from natural causes while trekking the trail- four in a single year, two in the same week. When I asked Monk what had happened, he said, “They ran out of breath.” Simple as that. (Love your heart; make sure your cardiac muscle is fit for the trek, or don’t step on the trail.)
The country’s image as a place where death and discovery entwine is off-putting to some. The image of the Papua New Guinea jungle deters people. If you’re not Papuan, you pretty much have to be a hard-assed Aussie to endure it, something I was admittedly not.
The Kodoka trail has belatedly become a symbol for Australian guts and nationhood. “Over 90 percent of those who hike Kodoka are Australians,” Brett would tell us. “Proximity’s one factor. Relating to the saga is another.”
It was a comment that caught my attention when I learned the number of Japanese trekking the Kodoka trail had increased in recent years as well. The trek is gruesome for winners and losers, and each side had enough occasions of both in ‘42.
Relating to the saga of the Australians and the Japanese is acknowledging “this is the ground” where their two societies (plus the Papuans, and eventually the Americans on the Northern Beaches) sacrificed. Trekking there makes it more real for post-veteran generations without tangential relationships to the war, let alone Papua New Guinea.
Brett would add, “And it’s hazardous.” That explained the allure for trekkers of any nationality who seek out perilous paths the planet has on offer. They make their way to PNG in search of daunting days and nights on a trek you may not be able to complete, or could die trying.” Walking With Ghosts In Papua New Guinea, 25-26.
As former President and CEO of Tourism Vancouver, Rick also made time to travel the world and author five books, yet has had his hand in some of Canada’s most renowned accomplishments including the Vancouver 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games for which Rick served as an Ambassador. President of Pacific Coast Public Television, and Chair of Destination Marketing Association International, based in Washington, DC and was a vice president with Rocky Mountaineer. He is in the Canadian Tourism Hall of Fame.
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Callum McLaughlin is a writer based in Western Massachusetts who has a passion for experiencing new places and cultures.