Today was such a great day!! I definitely feel more accomplished than I ever have in my entire life! For some reason, someone mentioned climbing part of Mt. Meru to reach some secret waterfall. Yesterday while training in Terengeru I thought I was invincible and decided it was a good idea. This intuitive vibe I've been getting here is really crazy and I hope to control it quickly! However, I'm so glad I did it! I've seen more of Tanzania this way. We met at 8am at the stoplight in town and were told the hike would take all day. I had no idea what I was getting myself into. It cost each of us $22 to pay the porter (a former GSC counterpart) for the hike and also park fees. It was a very long walk through a small part of town, somewhere near the street I live on. It was easy hiking, and all of a sudden it got intense!! I soon realized why everyone who climbs mountains trains for super long, and they were surprised when I agreed I'd make the trek. The slope was increasingly vertical, and soon I realized we were ascending at a super scary 50 degrees! The morning air was very dewy and it had just rained so the soil was very slippery. I knew I wasn't going to make it. We continued ascending for what must have been about 100 feet in less than 1 hour. Roger offered us rests, one of which we saw a beautiful Tanzanian woman coming down the mountain with no less than 10 pounds of greens on her head, coming down the very slope I declared myself nearly dead from climbing. Wait people actually live here?!!! How do they get to town!!! We watched as she went down the slope in small sandals (this was after she hit up the other volunteer for some money) and she didnt even fall once. After all these realizations, I still had to keep going UP. Oy vey, why did I get myself into this?!!
I kept trekking, and I could not believe the gorgeous views there were. It was better than a calendar, I kept saying. There were lush rolling hills with terrace farms down its slopes. I was shocked that there were so many homes on the hills of Mt. Meru which seemed closed to uninhabitable. As we walked, there were many homes made of mud with straw roofs, like those archetypical homes one would see on television. Everything was incredibly picturesque and so sublime. The slopes still only got more intense, and I had to hold the porter's hand to avoid falling! The other volunteers were so far ahead of us that at times I couldn't even hear their voices talking, while I was heaving and hyperventilating ages behind them, lagging the porter with me!
I was so relieved when we reached Roger's house, where we were slated to have lunch. I literally almost cried when I saw the hotel right near my homestay, which was now a millimeter on the horizon incredibly far away. I could not believe I had made it that far away, and was somehow expected to make it back later on!! As we looked over the view, I noticed that in my moment of heaving coming up that last leg of hill I stepped on a colony of worker ants, which now took haven in my pants. I felt them biting my calves and one was in my hip. When I looked down there were dozens on my sneakers and I knew they were in my socks. I whimpered and almost cried as I felt them walking in between my pants, and seeing those suckers--they were about 4 centimeters long each!! The other two volunteers helped me shake my legs and tap down my legs as I removed my sneakers. Almost as soon as I thought I'd be ok, I felt another one in my hip. I again had to excuse myself to take out the ant. It was awful.
Finally feeling confident I had removed all of them, we continued the trek upward. It did not get easier. Ascending the foothills of Meru, there were more forested landscapes and grasses were plentiful. After hiking upwards for what seemed like forever, we realized we had to descend now a hill that sloped nowhere less than 90 degrees to reach the creek that fed the waterfall. Nope. Not gonna do it. We still had to rest for a little bit, and I consented to going down the muddy slope to the lush rainforest below. I did it, albeit almost crying, slipping, and holding the porter, Roger's hand the entire time. At the creek below, there were some kids who helped me out too, making sure I didn't fall and die. To love somewhere so remote, their English was excellent!
For the following 30 minutes, we basically played frogger over the river rocks to pass from one side to the other. I slipped and fell into the river a few times, and got a few laughs while the others and the children had no problem. One of them was even barefoot! We climbed a couple more mossy rocks and finally saw a waterfall that could not have been more than 10 feet tall. WHAT?!! I got out of bed at 6 in the morning, nearly died climbing a mountain, to see a small leak of water?!! Another volunteer reassured me it was worth the trouble.....some crap about the 'beauty of nature'. I was so relieved when the porter announced that there was actually another real waterfall. As we walked for about another 10 minutes, seeing the waterfall really took my breath away. The entire falls was semi hidden in an 'outdoor room' carved away in the mountain's surface. There were already many Tanzanians there, who hooted and congratulated us 'wazungu' for actually making it to the place. We were actually only there for about 20 minutes, since it would take so long to come back. It was so amazing, and really worth the trouble, including almost breaking my face a few times.
On the trek back, I fell a few more times, almost died only once or twice but I think its healthy that's getting my blood going. One of the most bittersweet moments of the entire day was really the kids we passed the entire time. I'm not sure if these children see foreigners often, so whenever they would see me, they would not let go! However, there is so much desperation in their eyes you can't help but feel terrible when you deny their requests for money or food. One small girl, about 9 maybe when other children were holding my hand and helping me walk up the hill, grabbed my wrist tightly and demanded money. Also, its terrible to admit this as a foreigner but I was so hesistant at times to let them hold my hands since many have visible colds or heavy cough while they're holding your hand. One can simply say 'hapana' or no in town, but I had to say 'let go' and huff away. I felt like such a gross American tourist but there are so many risks in getting sick here! Many of the children were in such tattered clothes, white caked on ash and dust on their feet, as most had no shoes on. It was very emotional to be able to at least give something.
When we finally made it back to flat ground, I was so relived and felt so accomplished. I had learned so much, and really did have so much fun. Will I do it again? NEVER. However, its highly recommended for someone who has good shoes ( not skippys, like me) and in good enough shape to not breathe like a '55 Thunderbird the entire time. What was the best way to celebrate this feat? Kilimanjaro beers all around! Beer that costs 50 cents and tastes delicious, more so after you were so close to falling off a mountain and breaking you face? Awesome!!
Great moment of the day: Some of the many people we encountered that the porter knew, followed us for a bit right after I climbed that 90 degree wall in the rainforest. I laid down on the grass and let down my hair, and they all gathered around me. I thought they thought I was dying, but they were in awe over my hair! Even some of the children that were with us crossing the river were staring and one asked in Swahili to our porter if I was African. One of the other older men agreed and said I have 'jungle hair like an African woman' because its thick and wavy. My question then, why am I always mzungu?!!
Bonus moment! There was a lizard in my bedroom and I tried to explain to the housegirl this, except she doesnt speak English. So after some sign language and me drawing a lizard on a notepad she came into my room and shook the curtain where the lizard had been hanging out. Except she threw it in my luggage. I spent an hour right after coming back from Meru looking for it. Still didn't find it. Have fun in my clothes till I find you asshole! I don't even know if I can kill those things, I certainly don't want to touch it. Oy.