Monday, Jan 11, 2016- Day 1 of hiking Mt. Meru in Tanzania is in the books! AND no one feels completely miserable...yet. The coolest experience was seeing giraffes in the wild as we were just starting our climb. We also saw lots of monkeys, bushbacks (similar to deer), and some buffalo roaming the open plain. The climb was nice and easy at first and then, like the altitude, slowly elevated and made us winded. We hiked a total of 5 hours in the Arusha National Forest and saw Mt. Meru hovering over us as we climbed. It was nice to feel so small next to God's creation. I'm praying that I stay mentally strong and that my sore feet last the journey. I'm excited to break out the letters of encouragement I gathered from a few friends/family as a surprise to the other three girls. We have a steep 3-hr ascent starting in the am and our armed ranger, Milton, and guide, Freddie, will be leading the way (and their b.o. wafting ). I took my first bucket bath alongside my friend (HELLO, BONDING EXPERIENCE!) and then we had a nice dinner of leek soup, fried fish, potatoes, steamed veggies and warm tea (All supplies, cookware, and our backpacks were carried up by our gracious porters-- most of them using their heads!) We were thankful to head back to our room (called Bushpig!) to call it a night. Bushpigs for life, forever oinking with my gals Chrissi, Jenny and Rachel. We are ready for more. Bring it on, Day 2.
Tuesday, Jan 12, 2016- Holy literal shit! How the bathrooms have gone back in time! Now we must teach ourselves to poop in a hole from a semi-standing position. My most primitive experience yet I am officially and most definitely outside my comfort zone. We started the day around 6:30am thanks to the loud African birds and humans, too . Rachel gave us a pep talk, Mama Viviano inspired us via the letters and I prayed Psalm 121 for our journey during our breakfast of eggs, avocado and pancakes with PB and banana. We hiked STRAIGHT UP for 4 hours -3,000 ft- (thanks for your dedication to the cause, lungs!) and shared lots of heart along the way. I can't believe how well we are tolerating being at 12,000 ft! As if that wasn't enough, Jenny and Chrissi hiked Little Meru while Rachel and I rested, read, exchanged massage and prayed for positive attitudes. It was raining and foggy during their entire 2-hr hike so we expected the worst when they got bank but they blew us away with their smiles and great outlook. We are calling it a very early night (aka earliest I've ever gone to bed.ever.) as we have to wake at midnight for breakfast and hiking SUMMIT starts at 1am!!!! Nervous about tomorrow!
Wednesday, Jan 13, 2016- What a crazy bad dream of a day, starting at midnight when they woke us for our breakfast of cookies and peanut butter. At 1am, we set off into the pitch-black starry sky with headlamps glowing and started out supposed-to-be-5-hours-but-turned-out-to-be-7-hour hike to the summit of Mt. Meru, Africa's 5th tallest mountain with a height of 14,980 ft. HOLY HELL! Hardest physically/mentally/emotionally/spiritually demanding day the 4 of us have ever had in our lives!! I definitely did not think I was going to make it to the top many, many, many times throughout the journey. But all 4 of us pushed well beyond our physical and mental limits and did the impossible. That was my Everest. It will always be. No other day has ever been that hard. It was BRUTIFUL. I would classify the "hike" as a combo of: rock-climbing, scaling, bouldering, climbing and mountaineering all in one. It.was.insane. Absolutely insane. We walked the first 6 hours in darkness (so happy as then we couldn't see how high, tough, scary, dangerous, etc, that we could see on the way back ) and imagined the scene of the Three Wise Men as they followed the bright star just as we followed the lit headlamps of fellow hikers in the distance and the brilliant stars in the night sky. All of us ended up crying, laughing, and praying desperately along the way. The letters of inspiration were crucial at this point as we rallied to the tune of "Toasties to the Top" [insert laughter and renewed hope] from our beloved Allison and repeated "inch by inch, life's a cinch" thanks to our dear friend's mom. I prayed like I've never prayed before. We sang, told stories, inspired/affirmed each other and were constant reminders of love, strength, and bad-assery...for 7 hours straight up and then 3.5 hours back down. By the grace of God and beautiful, pink, healthy lungs, we all made it to the top!!!! We were only allowed a few pics and 10 min top to collect our delirious selves and muster the strength to undo all that we just did!!!! Then it was back down the hellish, rocky boulder terrain of quicksand and around the "knife edge" wall only equipped with a chain link to prevent one from plummeting to his death. But God didn't let our feet stumble. And He indeed was our strength. So thankful for our Christ-like porters Tobias and Morris and their gentle, compassionate souls that assisted us in our journey, the tricky parts of the route and in carrying our things. They also did their part of inspiring us and singing us songs in return. So blessed to have them as I know I could NOT have done it without them. Once we made it back down to our camp, we got to rest an hour, eat lunch and then pack up to HIKE ANOTHER 3 HOURS!!!! 14 hour day on 3 hours of sleep with barely any nutrition and no water for the 2nd half as it ran out, with aching knees and feet from very steep descents and stone paths. Oh, and pouring down rain to top it off! Jenny coined it well- we all will likely have low-grade PTSD after this day. What a grueling feat that made me so damn proud of myself and my kick-ass gal pals!! We are so ready to get off this majestic mountain and NEVER do anything of the sort EVER AGAIN!!!
Thursday, Jan 14, 2016- I'm actually sad to leave the company of our awesome porters, chef, and climbing crew but my feet are so ready to get off this damn mountain. David, our our Good Earth Tours office guy, met us back at the original hotel for a 'chit-chat' and said there were a few changes--no safari game drive today (good! I probably would have slept through it!), but because of that, we have been UPGRADED to a 4-5 star hotel!!!! This is the most luxurious place I've ever stepped foot! What a beautiful change in pace, cleanliness and pampering!!! It felt like someone just handed me a million bucks! They greeted us with cool, CLEAN washcloths, a glass of champagne, cookies and the friendliest, brightest smiles 4 exhausted hiker girls ever did see! Our hilarious safari guide "Bushbaby" accompanied us and will start up the Land Cruiser in the am. Alas, tonight is time enough for the most rewarding and thorough shower, leg-shaving, 5-course meal, wine, and connecting with back home and the outside world. I'm in a blissful state as I drift to sleep in a king-sized bed with a mosquito canopy net, wood-fire burning in the room and warmed sheets. This is NOT real life, but tonight I will most definitely take it :)