- Historic Sites
A Short Walk On Guadalcanal
J. L. O. Tedder missed the battle, but his peacetime pursuits are heroic enough
May/june 1993 | Volume 44, Issue 3
Tedder zips through more clothing advice (“lightness is essential”) and shelter information (mosquito nets are useless against mosquitoes but may keep away “other bugs such as centipedes”). Camping in the jungle requires an hour or so of cutting down vegetation, but stopping in a village also has its disadvantages. Few have latrines. Some set aside special areas, but visitors “may find it more convenient to dig their own hole in a nearby patch of bush.”
Finally Tedder tackles the technique, one might say the feat, of going for a walk on Guadalcanal.
“The technique of walking in rain forests is quite different to that required in more open country. There is generally so much mud, so many roots and slippery stones, so many minor observations which lie hidden by ferns at the side of the very narrow footpath, that there is more involved than just putting one foot steadily in front of another. In fact it can be disastrous to try to maintain a steady and regular pace. The length of the stride and the speed depends on the ground conditions which change constantly. When walking your eyes should be upon the place where you will next place your foot and walking should be done on the balls of the feet so that you are poised to leap to the next foot if the previous foot slips. If there is something to be admired, stop walking before looking at it. The moment that the eyes leave the path to look at something else then a slip or fall may occur. Never step on roots while going up or down hills if the roots are not at right angles to the slope. Never step on large leaves where these lie on slopes, bamboo leaves are very banana like.”
From here (after a glance at the fact that some of Guadalcanal’s slopes rise ) at an angle of sixty degrees) we proceed to a section called “Hazards.” At first I thought this apparent abandonment of the order of climax meant that Tedder was losing control of his material. But I was wrong. Tedder’s list of hazards makes walking in the rain ” forest seem benign.
If walkers become lost, Tedder instructs them not to “follow along down a water course because many streams end up in gorges, waterfalls or swamps.” He adds a touch to his urgent advice not to trust maps. They may lead the walker to slopes that are “often convex and once too far down it is impossible to climb back up again if cliffs develop in your path.”
Poisonous snakes: There are only two kinds to worry about. The black-ringed Micropechia alopoides comes in white or yellow versions; the other, cozily called Guppy’s Viper, is brown, has a small head, and “often will attack.” However, the snakes are not numerous and “generally move away before you.” The same cannot be said for centipedes. “These are to be feared because of the excruciating pain which lasts for 24 hours or more following a bite.” They grow up to thirty centimeters long, but they “do not often come into villages if the surrounding vegetation is kept under control.” If you are mosquito-netless and find one walking on you, “remain calm and it will often move away but if it has to be brushed off then do it in the direction in which it was walking at the time.” How you ascertain the centipede’s plans for touring your anatomy in the dark, Tedder does not say.
There are also scorpions in the bush. Though they are “not numerous,” Tedder advises the walker never to go about the campsite at night without footwear and to carefully check all clothes and footwear the next morning before putting them on. Stinging plants are trickier. If brushed on the underside of the leaf, the “kirape” causes nettlelike stings that may last up to a week and are aggravated by water. Another vegetable menace, the Hailasi, causes “large swellings and big blisters on some people.” And there are five species of thorn. “Care must be taken before you grasp anything to help you when climbing or descending a hill,” Tedder notes.
None of these hazards, except Guppy’s Viper and his friend Micropechia alopoides , kill (though one suspects that by this point the walker might welcome death). The same benevolent observation cannot be made on behalf of Guadalcanal’s rivers, which “are one of the greatest hazards to be met with on this island.” Most are “swift flowing,” and all can “flood with little warning.” Tedder once saw a river rise five feet in three minutes. If you become lost and decide, against Tedder’s advice, to follow a riverbed, be sure to look around for thunderheads first. A cloudburst can drown you.
Tedder moves on to the minor hazards: “There are always plenty of ants.” Large black ones met on the bush paths have a painful bite, but “most others are just a nuisance.” Leeches are few and “quite small,” but rats are plentiful in the villages, and walkers will want to hang their food from the roofs of their huts by night. Cockroaches and bedbugs abound, especially if the government has recently done any antimalaria spraying. Chemicals seem to excite the bedbugs in particular, and “people often move outside to escape them.”
Tedder slogs on (I see him at his typewriter in the breeze-swept central patio of the Hotel Mendana, within sight of that sign WELKOM FRENDS !), laying out some twenty pages of two- and three-day walks, all of which he has obviously taken himself.