Thursday, October 28, 2010

Piece of Cake

Sunday, October 24

When I was 15, I went on a hiking trip with my Dad in the mountains in New Mexico, at a place called Philmont. About halfway through our two-week trip, as we ascended to the highest point of our trek, debilitating blisters forced me to seriously consider returning to base camp.

Now it's an unfortunate truth that I have no discipline when it comes to putting myself through physical discomfort. Like working out? Forget it. I will not run for more than 6 minutes at a time unless an angry rhinoceros or a yetti is chasing me.

Luckily, somewhere between sniffling in self-pity and blaming the world for my dilemma, I realized how much I would regret quitting. I started pounding the offending hiking boot on the ground and bellowing,
"You're not taking me off this mountain!"

This has become a legendary moment between my Dad and I, a sort of tangible proof that little by little I'm learning to stand on my own in the world.

Well anyway, the point is that I climbed a very difficult mountain today and couldn't stop thinking about that moment - though thankfully there were no blisters involved in this hike. My Keen sandals are by far the most valuable thing I brought to Ghana. Seriously, I do everything in them: run, climb, swim, think, eat, sleep.

Saturday morning, per usual, found me off on another adventure. Julia, Laura, Lula, Karina and I travelled from Aflao to Ho to Hohoe to Wli (Vlee) in order to visit the Wli Waterfalls.
We got the Waterfall Lodge where we were staying and went that same afternoon to see the lower fall, which is an easy 30 - 40 minute hike on a basically flat trail through the rainforest. Butterflies swirl in clouds around you. The air is filled with the sounds of birdcalls, trilling frogs and trickling water. The forest smells pleasantly of damp earth. And just as you reach the point where you can hear the awe-inspiring roar of the waterfall, you see...that the entire place is crawling with university students on a field trip from Accra, who have even brought an enormous sound system and are blaring hiplife music in the middle of our nature paradise...

Laura turns to me and goes, "Look, we get a nightclub and a waterfall all in one."


After about 20 minutes of trying to ignore the rowdy teenagers, we finally decided to go swimming like we'd originally planned. So Lula, Julia and I waded into the chilly water, while Laura and Karina agreed to wait for second shift so they could guard the bags. We were happily shivering about 50 feet away from the waterfall when some random boy comes up, wraps his arm around my waist and goes, "Let's go." ...Uh, sure. So we actually went under the waterfall.

The lower Wli fall has got to be nearly 100 stories tall, and I'm truly awful at estimating so don't put too much faith in that, but the point is it's nothing to be trifled with. As we got closer, the spray hit my skin so hard it hurt. By the time we were directly under the falling water, I was getting pummelled so hard I went numb. Karina, who was waiting on the bank with Laura, said she could hear me screeching madly. I don't think I was making quite as much noise as she said- although I know I was making some- but I couldn't actually hear myself. I couldn't open my eyes either. Every single sense was deadened.

For a few minutes, the entire world was the roaring white water crashing on top of us.

Emerging from the Waterfall

It was exhilirating.
And a little terrifying.
The water under the fall is not even knee deep (and, irritatingly, I still had rando holding onto me), so I wasn't overly worried about drowning, but the sheer power of the waterfall inspires a healthy amount of respect.

A huge colony of fruit bats lives on the cliff face next to the fall, and one of the first things I saw when I shook the water out of my eyes was that an enormous cloud of them had taken off and was circling over the clearing, probably disturbed by the music. Pretty cool looking.

That night I had the rare opportunity to sit and hang out with my friends. We rarely stay out past 7 in Aflao, so it was nice to be able to sit outside at the Lodge and visit without any time restrictions.
I love this group of girls. Between the 5 of us we represent 4 different countries, and only 2 of us speak English as our first language, so conversation is always interesting!
This trip in particular, we kept mishearing each other all over the place.

"I need the banana money."
"Banana monkey?"

"Where's the bug spray?"
"What butter spray?"

"My mom sent me chocolate milk in my package!"

My favorite was Laura though, who kept inexplicably saying "Cake" in places where it not only made no sense, but there wasn't any word that even sounded remotely like cake.
Like, "We climbed the cake" instead of mountain.
So now whenever one of us mispeaks or can't remember a word, the others helpfully supply, "CAKE!"

We also have the best system of loaning money. People always make us pay as a group, and you can rarely get more than 5 cedis in change, so we have to get pretty creative.
Julia owes Laura 5 from the tro-tro, but Laura owes Lula 3 from dinner, so in the end Julia owes Lula 3, but they all owe me 6 from the waterfall tickets, except I owe Karina 12 for the hotel room, so they have to partially pay her instead...
It gets pretty hilariously confusing, but we haven't made a mistake yet!

We went to the upper fall the next day, which was the hike I was referring to.
Two hours of literally crawling up the mountain. The trail was so steep I had to pull myself up using roots and tree trunks and rocks. Every 100 yards or so my muscles would start shaking so bad I had to sit down. I was also sweating so much I began to wonder where my beer gut and 3 day stubble was...The air is so humid none of it evaporates, so everyone was just dripping.
After that we had a 30 minute descent to the base of the fall, which was less physically strenuous but equally challenging in it's own way becuase you had to watch every single step. I placed each foot very deliberately to avoid tumbling head-over-heels down the same kind of treacherously steep path I'd just so painstakingly dragged myself up.
You might not believe this, but it was actually incredibly fun.
You're swaying where you stand and trying to look at the view through the black spots in your vision and every possible pore in your body is sweating and you're still having a blast.

And the waterfall was worth it.

It falls into a sort of natural basin formed by the sheer cliffs that surround it. The force of the water crashing down creates a wind that fills the basin, whipping back our soaked hair and forcing the plants into a perpetual bow.


The way back down was obviously the opposite from before- a 40 minute climb and a 90 minute descent.
We were as proud as Everest climbers when we finally reached the bottom.

I'd do it again any day!
Piece of...what's the word again? Oh yeah-

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