I emerged soaking wet, exhausted, exhilarated. “This is the my greatest travel day.”
The morning prelude had taken me to WWII sites of Guadalcanal, Solomon Islands, with a snorkeling stop at the wreck of Japanese freighter Bonegi II.
I was brought to a village and handed to a machete-wielding local clansman who would take me up in the hills of his lands.
Barefoot, teeth stained with betel nut juice, he led the way.
We ascended Galloping Horse Ridge under the fierce midday sun.
The Thin Red Line.
We continued along the ridge, heading for Matakino Falls.
Rain had fallen the prior days and the descent to the falls was slick. I was soon covered in mud. The jungle floor is littered with artillery shells and bullet cases.
The tranquil falls belie their momentous past.
The route back was not promising. Clambering up the muddy hills would have been a risky slog. The guide looked down the falls and proposed another route.
I rolled up my trousers and bundled my passport, wallet, camera and other items in my day pack. I had no waterproof pack.
Down the falls we went, under the slumbering watch of Japanese tunnels. We took turns treading water with our packs held overhead as we crossed the deep pools with little to grip on the steep cliffs. Holding a pack aloft while treading water is instantly exhausting. I felt a small echo of the soldiers wielding their packs and guns above their heads, their lives that could be snuffed out at any moment.
The pools turned to creeks as we descended over the course of an hour. Eventually we emerged to small streams, muscles trembling from the exertion, and utterly thrilled.
A villager had piled flowers on his daily harvest. I selfishly thought it a laurel for my accomplishment on this peaceful day. Rather, it was, and could only be, a small tribute to the lives sacrificed on this hallowed ground.