P-MAN VII Update
Sunday, 13 March
Sam and Dermot at Sam's Tours came through again! They let us use the SUV to travel back up to Police Hill in Ngatpang to begin our search for the Hospital, gateway to a possible new location of the mass grave site.
We parked at the top of the hill, near the ruins of the Kempeitei station, and headed down the long, bare slope to the jungle near the river. We found what looked like a hunters' path into the jungle. It led to a spot where a huge fallen log allowed a dry but teetery crossing of the river. After scrambling across a dry stream bed, we found ourselves on a flat area that might have been the location of the hospital. A quick sweep turned up nothing, but we climbed up above that area to another fairly large flat area (also completely inside the jungle), and ultimately located some debris that clearly established this as the site of a hospital.
We weren't really interested in the hospital per se - it was only a key landmark in the story told to us yesterday about the location of what the interviewee believes is the true execution/mass grave site. Yesterday, his story was a little unclear about the direction to go from the hospital to find the grave site. He indicated that the hill on which the site lies is behind the hospital, and he also said he thought it was north of the hospital. Turns out that there's a hill directly behind the hospital, and also one to the north.
We decided to press on to the north and try to explore that hill first.
We crossed a small tributary to the river and made it to the hill, from which we were able to get some good GPS fixes. At the base of the hill on the near side close to the river, we found a couple of trenches and a large iron furnace. This could be the location of the police station after it was moved from the hilltop, or it could be one of the generals' headquarters that were described to us by yesterday's interviewee. From the open area at the top of the hill we could clearly see the other hill (the one behind the hospital), so we took some compass headings, dived back into the jungle, and followed the river back around to a point close to where we had originally entered the jungle. We crossed the river again, went back to the hospital to get our bearings, and headed up the other hill.
We found nothing on either hill, but only spent a short time at each location. The purpose of this trip was to get oriented to the area, so we'll have a sense of how to explore it next year when we return.
This was some pretty energetic climbing and thrashing, especially in the areas on both ridge lines that were populated with what we called "fern grass" (not sure what its real name is), which is very dense and in some places was roughly 8-10 feet tall. We took turns trying to mash down a path through this stuff. The lead person could only do it for a couple of minutes before becoming completely exhausted. Kind of like taking a hike through a brillo pad that's over your head.
The weather had been clear and hot all day, without much breeze down in the jungle. As we finally climbed back up the long hill to the police station, we were greeted at the top by a brief rain shower. Felt great.
When we returned to Koror, it was raining hard. They said it had rained there all day.