Sunday, March 29, 2009
I made the decisions to go to graduate school pretty much on a whim. I was talking with a professor at NMSU my last year before I graduated and he suggested graduate school. I had just several life-changing events happen in the few shorts months leading up to that moment (in which I had no control over) and had no idea where my life was going. He mentioned something about how I would do well at graduate school. I said, "OK." He asked where I had thought about applying (I hadn't yet), and I looked up at his wall saw an MTSU poster (as he was a guest speaker/professor the summer before and spoke highly of the program at MTSU), and I pointed at the poster and said, "there." And that was that. I applied. I didn't really have a back up plan if I wasn't accepted into this program; I considered teaching in Japan for a few years if I didn't get accepted, otherwise, I had no idea. You can imagine why I was so ecstatic when I received my acceptance letter.
As for my summer before grad school, I needed a job and intended to work in Atlanta as my parents were living there at the time. The jobs weren't as readily available as I had hoped and one night over bar-b-que chicken and mashed potatoes, I decided I wanted to work at Disney World as that was a dream of mine. That was Wednesday night and on Friday morning my sister and I drove to Orlando and secured a place to stay over the summer as well as jobs at Frontierland in the Magic Kingdom. That summer was fantastic. It was hard as the living expenses were high and I had to secure a second job (and working 70 hours a week to have nothing to show for it at the end of three months is a little ridiculous), but that has been one of the best summers of my life.
The decision to go to the Pacific was also made in a short period of time. I saw the poster and told myself I would go. I heard from Bethany about the trip the next afternoon, emailed Dr. Frisby, and clicked the "accept" button for my student loan to fund the trip in a matter of three hours. I made up my mind that I would go see those WWII sites and that was that.
I would argue that those were good decisions and I would not change anything if I had a choice. I make my decision and I run with it, that's just how I roll. I have to start making some decisions about my future and that has thrown me for a loop. Jet-lag hasn't really helped my thought process, either. But it is my feeling that we don't have much time on this earth (what, like 100 years at most? I've already used like a quarter of that time, too) and we have to make the most of the time we are given. I've got nine months left of graduate school (I hope!). I have decided that I want to see more of overseas while I am young and unattached. I am guessing Europe with a GS job. I can't say exactly what I will do, but when the opportunity presents itself, I'll know it and will run with it. Regardless, I'm flexible. And spontaneous. Maybe a posting from next month will read "My life in India." Who knows?
Thursday, March 26, 2009
I'm not sure if I will continue blogging. I like it and I've had some people ask if I will continue. I think so? Maybe not? I will take it day by day. I will feel weird if I am not writing with a purpose (like keeping family and friends posted about adventures on a trip). I suppose I could document my progress in school as I approach the end (if all goes well, I will graduate in December). Or I could blog about how I quit school and joined the circus (don't laugh, I'd do it... except that clowns scare me).*
I feel that I may have been a "peak-to-sooner." I worked so hard as an undergrad and have pushed myself as a graduate student. I positioned myself, too, to succeed in the masters program so I could be accepted in a PhD program (and theoretically succeed there to theoretically get a job). Now I lack the motivation to finish my masters program [don't freak out, Mom and Dad- I'll finish]. I just have to keep telling myself I have nine more months and then I am free to do whatever I want. I haven't decided if I want to be a park ranger or work overseas. Park Ranger for the National Park Service is, by far, the best job ever. Unfortunately, it is mostly limited to the US. I was looking at federal jobs overseas today and found a number that I would be content doing in Europe or Asia, but the jobs themselves would not be as cool as being a park ranger.
I suppose I could just chill out and enjoy my time here. The weather is warming up and I love summertime. And I have an outstanding group of friends here. Last night I woke up in the middle of the night (as my body was telling me it was the middle of the day and I should not sleep regardless of how tired I was) and decided to read for a bit. Ecclesiates is becoming one of my new favorite books.
"Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God's work from beginning to end. So I concluded there is nothing better than to be happy and enjoy ourselves as long as we can. And people should eat and drink and enjoy the fruits of their labor, for these are gifts from God... So I saw that there is nothing better for people than to be happy in their work. That is why we are here! No one will bring us back from death to enjoy life after we die." (Ecc. 3:11-13, 22)
It's just hard to remember that when day-to-day stress rears its ugly head and makes me want to quit school and live in a van by the river.
*(I would like to take this time to admit to my over-use of parenthesis. I don't know why I like them so much, I just do.)
Wednesday, March 25, 2009
I leave for Nashville in less than an hour. I am debating if I need to create a reason to escape or just let him keep talking to me. Now he is telling me about his drug addict girlfriend. Everything happens for a reason.
People watching is fun here. It would be a lot more fun if dude wasn’t talking my ear off. I think I need to go walk around and pretend to stretch my legs. I’ll post all this when I get back to the Boro.
Last night I attempted to take a nap before we had to leave at 11pm for the Korror Airport. I accidentally had my alarm set to Guam time so I shorted myself an hour from that nap but realized that too late. I got to chat online with a friend so that made me feel better. We loaded our bags on the bus then headed for the airport. The Palau Airport stinks and I don’t mean that literally. I needed to mail postcards from Palau, but they had no postbox from the airport. Ok, cool, I’ll do it from Guam. The check-in crew demonstrated how stoked they were to work at the airport with their smiles, friendly service, and happy attitudes. Oh, wait. There was none of that. The only positive that came out of the fact that the attendants so clearly did not care about service, that they didn’t care that our bags were a little overweight. I’ll take the crankypants check-in clerks in return for NOT having to pay an extra $50 for overweight luggage. So that worked in our favor. I got caught in the security because my ziplock bag filled with my 3.5 oz bottles of liquids was not good enough for the Palau Airport so I had to walk to the restaurant next door to purchase a 50 cent “authorized” ziplock bag. If that doesn’t have “scam” written all over it, I don’t know what does.
We finally take off, authorized ziplock bags and all, only to land an hour later on the island of Yap. The attendant came on over the loudspeakers, “Please, everybody in rows 5 through 28, seats A, B, and C get off the plane and wait in the terminal.” I was in 17C. What!? Why? I want to nap, lady! It is 2 in the morning! How come the other half of the plane gets to stay in their seats? I’m not going and you can’t make me!
So I got off the plane and waited in the Yap Airport. Where is Yap? At this moment, I still have no idea. I had flashbacks to the Iwo trip in which we were escorted off the plane only to wait in the hangar (too bad they weren’t playing Flags of Our Fathers like at Iwo. At least then we’d have something to do). I will look it up when I get home. So now I can say that I have been to Yap. It’ll be a good story to tell when awkward silences arise at group events. “I’ve been to Yap before.” That’ll impress people.
We loaded the plane (again), got settled in and I napped my way to Guam. In Guam we had to unload the plane, go through Immigration and back through security (trip #2) with just enough time to spare to get on the plane to Honolulu. Again, I looked for a postbox and was informed that there was not one in the airport. I want to know why not? Seriously? Does nobody mail postcards anymore? Have the blue post office boxes fallen to the wayside as people blog their life away? Why send a postcard when I can send a link from the airport? Oh, well, I’ll just carry them to Hawai’i.
I got on the plane, nestled in for the seven hour flight, napped for a bit, watched a funny movie, did some yoga moves outside the bathrooms, attempted to nap again, played some hangman, all while trying to remain patient. Home, home, home! was all that ran through my head. We landed in Honolulu, had to go through Customs, and eventually back through security (trip #3). To go through security we have to get our bags from baggage claim then re-check them through. The bags from our flight kept coming and I twiddled my thumbs. La la la. Where is my second bag? Ho hum, this is fun, but why have the conveyor belts stopped? Where is my bag?! Somewhere between Palau and Honolulu, that’s where. Probably stuck on the stupid island of Yap.
So I will have to file a baggage claim at Nashville. I am rather upset. I was stomping around the duty free store in Honolulu, but nobody cared in there. Stupid chocolate-covered macadamia nuts. It’s their fault. Ok, maybe it is nobody’s fault, but I was still irked. And those macadamia nuts are a good size for throwing. I thought about getting them to either throw at people or eat my feelings. I did neither. I did finally find a post office box outside the duty-free store, so any postcards sent (regardless of where they are from) have Honolulu postmarks. Oh, well.
I should sleep now. I just have visions of my box being washed up on an island in the Pacific somewhere with Tom Hanks and Wilson. Maybe he can use my camera, bag-full of Iwo Jima sand, clothes, journal, books, and running shoes.
Tuesday, March 24, 2009
Monday, March 23, 2009
I had those thoughts briefly on Iwo Jima, but the nature of the trip did not allow for time to process those thoughts about that island. Living and breathing Peleliu jungle for several days has cultivated these thoughts into more than just mere ponderings.
We approached a scene straight out of Indiana Jones. Green and black mossy growth covered most of the building. There were rusty remnants of 55 gallon drums and Quonset huts surrounding the building that had some severe structural damage. A banyon tree had pushed its way through the bottom of the building and was growing out through the roof. Other smaller trees and vines were creeping their way into and around the building. It appeared the place was a repair shop of sorts. The evidence pointed to a direct hit slamming into one side of the building, stopping any activity happening at that moment.
Most of the sites we saw resembled each other. A battle fought, the land abandoned after the War, and the natural environment growing over the scene. Some weaponry or at least munitions scattered on the ground and lots of rusted pieces of metal surrounded by years of growth designated these spots. This site contained a different feel and I can’t explain why. Maybe because the site was largely untouched for the last several decades, as nobody knew about it. I think it had to do with it being the most obvious place that showed human activity before the attack (and that may because looters had not previously known about the site so the remains actually remained).
I don’t believe in ghosts in the traditional sense that there are the invisible souls of the human dead floating around. But I do believe in invisible spiritual happenings (I just can’t explain what they are). Belief systems aside, the place had a weird vibe. I walked over to Lucille and she pointed to a cave and said that there was some bones and mess kits in it, but that it would be a tight squeeze. Most of the group had left to explore another cave so I decided to go in. I had to shimmy down flat on my rear. Camera and flashlight in hand, I began to work my way down. Lucille called down and said that there would be a room to my right and if I looked I would see a skull. I don’t know what I expected when I looked into that room, but the skull startled me. The dark pockets of eye sockets pierced into me. I heard someone trying to come in after me and I asked them to wait so I could get out and I shimmied out of that cave faster than a bat out of… that cave.
I wasn’t scared so much as I was put off. I was already emotionally dealing with the idea that people lived and worked at this site before probably being killed by the direct hit. I think I was bothered by the idea of disrupting the burial site. Soldiers lived in that cave, attempted to survive in those caves, and were killed in that cave. I’m not sure why I ventured into the cave knowing dead people were in there. I almost felt disrespectful. I am not saying others who venture into the caves to see these sites are disrespectful; I’m not judging at all. I am just saying that I did not feel comfortable with it.
I am going to carry the eeriness of that site with me. Both sides lost a lot of men on that island. And while I am learning and growing from this visit, I am still working through some of my own personal issues while here.
Sunday, March 22, 2009
We arrived on the island somewhere around 9ish (although I didn’t have my watch- we function on island time here, anyway). We dropped off our bags to our various “hotels” and homes where we were staying, lathered up in sunscreen and bugspray, loaded the bus, then started off on our first day’s adventure. Man! Each stop only got better. We had to (and will have to continue to) trek carefully through the jungle to avoid stepping on the land crabs and live ammunition that are scattered around. We saw tanks, LVTs, bunkers, a crashed airplane, the power plant for the island, and the administration building. We had time to digest what we were seeing, unlike our trip to Iwo, and absorb what all of these artifacts meant. We also stopped at the 81st Army monument; that was the unit that one of my great-great uncles fought with. That plunged me deep into thought and I wondered what he saw when he fought his way into the island. All I know is he was shot in the knee here.
We stopped at a small cave with some mess kits, canteens, a few rounds, and the remains of a Japanese soldier. That was a little intense. Today we are supposed to head up to the ridge with a lot of caves to explore like that. There is no telling what we will find in each of these caves. I am a little nervous about that, actually. I don’t know how well I handle caves. It’s all mental, it’s all mental, it’s all mental. On top of the caves being small, dark spaces, there are cave crickets. Unless you are my family, you won’t understand why that is a big deal, but I did have an internal freak-out session when I saw those. I am getting the heeby-jeebies now just thinking about those.
Those who know me will applaud my lack of OCD on this trip. I didn’t wash my hands almost all day and kept leaving my hand sanitizer on the bus. I was a big, brave girl, covered in dirt, sweat, and sand, and kept pushing through the jungle. I think I will take 14 showers upon my arrival to Murfreesboro.
Saturday, March 21, 2009
On our boat ride over, I saw what I thought was a shark’s fin and did the same thing. I started pointing and yelling “shark! SHARK!” Unfortunately, the boat was going to fast and we passed the shark before anyone could hear me in time to confirm. I was convinced I saw a shark. After we docked at Peleliu, I was trying to convince everyone that I, indeed, saw that shark. Dan, another member of the group who is not part of the class, walked up and asked if any of us saw the manta ray. Oh, man! It wasn’t a shark’s fin, after all. He attempted to console me by saying it was way more rare to see a manta ray than a shark, but I was still a little disappointed. I guess I shouldn’t be. I saw a manta ray swimming in the Pacific Ocean, right?
As we boated through the Rock Islands to get to Peleliu, I don’t know if any of us could fully wrap our minds around the raw beauty that surrounded us. The water sparkled unbelievable shades of blue. The islands were huge rocks that jetted out of the ocean, covered with the greenest jungle. We will all bring back photos and footage, but nothing will portray those islands with any justice.
Friday, March 20, 2009
Of the group of students on this trip, there is not one single full-on, traditional history major. And that has been one of the coolest things about this trip, as everyone contributes different studies to help demonstrate a more complete story. Right now, Bethany is getting her gear ready. She will be physically mapping out the island and caves of Peleliu with GIS and GPS stuff. She can take a picture with her camera, then link that to the coordinates of where we are on earth. When we get back home she said she would try to link that to Google Earth so everyone can wee where we've been. Yesterday we visited the southern beaches on our own as a class. It is unbelieveable to stand where waves peacefully break around your ankles, imagining what it would have looked like 64 years ago, will the chaos of war. While we were there, Chad did some non-destructive testing of some Japanese concrete fortifications. He can find out so much with all of his gear. I don't even think about concrete, but I imagine the soldiers wondered their durability when they were being bombarded during the war.
We are leaving in about two hours. We have to load up a boat to go to Peleliu. Evidently, we are just dropping our bags on shore then exploring. I think our entirely class is more than ready for this trip and what we will find.
We have met several WWII veterans on this trip, both Japanese and American. Hearing their stories absolutely amaze me. I think I will write a separate post about the individual vets that I talked to. I've mentioned Tanji, our local guide. He is very colorful and cheerful. I imagine I will have more stories about him before the week is out. Dan is a Japanese translator that went with us to Iwo Jima; it turns out he went to the same high school as my mom, only graduating two years later. He is a very cool guy with lots of stories about the Japanese experiences in the Pacific. Tara works for the Stars and Stripes; we met her on Guam. She is very classy and approachable. She was neat; she dressed insanely feminine, had two of the cutest and most well-behaved kids ever, and is getting her masters in military history. I love it. James was our tour guide around the southern battlefields on Guam on our last day. He's not officially a native of Guam, but has lived there for something like 20 years and was very knowledgeable about Guam. He probably knows the Code of the Ocean by heart. Jeff the Pirate owns Jeff's Pirate Cove. He was cool; just a guy from Massachusetts who wanted to be a pirate, so he opened a bar/restaraunt on a cove. Rosa was an elderly Chamorro lady who showed us how to make salt; I can't remember the last time I've seen such dry sarcasm, especially out of someone who doesn't have all of their teeth. She made me smile. There are lots of others to write about for different reasons, but I should probably go. I think we are encouraged to meet some of our locals by eating and drinking with them in the restaurant next door. Plus I need to get to bed early so I can rise early for that boat ride through paradise.
The Peleliu leg of the trip sounds like it will be the best part. Guam is an Unincorporated Territory of the USA and with the large presence of Americans, I didn't miss anything from back home. Now I am at a nice hotel according to Palau standards that would be ranked "economy" within the US. Tomorrow we will take a boat into Peleliu; we get to pass the Rock Islands and see where some of the "Survivor" show was filmed. This has been the craziest trip and time keeps flying by like it is nobody's business. I won't want to go home.
Thursday, March 19, 2009
Wednesday, March 18, 2009
Tuesday, March 17, 2009
This trip started as, what seemed like at the time, a whim. I saw a poster on the wall of Peck Hall last August and thought the Guam-Iwo Jima-Peleliu MTAbroad trip sounded like an amazing trip. That next afternoon I met Bethany in the VC at the battlefield and found out that not only was she in the same program that I was, but that she was going on the WWII study abroad trip. She said I should, too, so I did. That afternoon I emailed Dr. Frisby, then promptly applied for my subsidized loan. I am not sure what exactly compelled me to say “yes,” but I did.
Initially, this trip was just that- a trip. I understood the magnitude of this trip in that it would be a once in a lifetime opportunity, but at the time it was still just a trip. As a junior in college, I had a military history professor show my naval history class the joys of Google Earth. We “visited” the wreckage of ships along the shores of Cuba, the U.S.S. Arizona at Pearl Harbor, and the island of Iwo Jima all from our classroom. The island of Iwo Jima struck a chord with me and I am not sure why. I think it was because of what the professor said: Iwo Jima was only open one day a year to the American public and the Japanese government was likely to close the island to civilians in the next few years. I told myself that I would see that island for myself then tucked that thought away.
It is remarkable how much I surround myself with military history, yet I think it is one of my least favorite topics within the overall field of history. I work at a national battlefield and am continually reading something relating to the Civil War. I love World War I and World War II home front history. Band of Brothers still reigns as one of my favorite movies EVER. I paid a chunk of money to go on a trip to the Pacific to see battlefields that initially didn’t have specific or individual meaning to me. Usually the things that interest me are all the other aspects of life during war except for the war itself. Yet, I am still drawn to the stories of the service members at these various places.
One of the first questions people asked me when they found out I was going on this trip was, “why?” It seemed so obvious to me: why not? But that was just the vague answer that does not answer the question accurately. I didn’t know why exactly, I just knew I had to. Even though military history sometimes seems like the most boring type of history to me, I connect to it because of my background. I grew up as an Army Brat, through and through. Except for my dad’s three-year assignment to Camp Zama, Japan, I have never lived in any one spot consecutively for more than two years. Uniforms, government housing, and moving boxes contain levels of comfort to me, as they were major parts of my life. Home is where the Army sends you, right?
A few weeks ago I had a layover in Dallas. Waiting for my plane to arrive, I looked up to see my dad walking in his Army uniform through the airport. The incident was entirely coincidental; we did not know each other’s travel plans, it just happened. But for whatever reason, when I saw my dad walking I could hardly contain myself. I threw everything in my lap and almost started running towards him. The event surprised both of us. While I was talking to him, a twenty-something girl walked up to him, put out her hand, smiled, and said “thanks, sir.” He smiled back, shook her hand, and she walked away. I asked if that happened a lot and he modestly acknowledged that it did. I had to fight back the tears that began to well in my eyes. The American flag badge worn on the shoulder of his uniform seemed exceedingly bright in comparison to the drab of his uniform. The moment was surreal and words don’t capture nor express what I felt.
I believe it is that feeling that struck my chord when I mentally tucked away my plan to one day visit Iwo Jima. It sparked again when I saw the poster on the wall for this trip. And it almost moved me to tears when I realized what my dad does. I never honestly stopped to consider that he is paid to be ready to go to war and put his life on the line if his country tells him to. I was so accustomed to dad-in-uniform and I never contemplated what that actually meant. He is an American soldier and I am very proud of him. My brother also serves in the Air Force, as did my grandfather. I am proud of both of them. Six out of my grandmother’s seven brothers served in WWII; one injured on Peleliu and one on Iwo Jima. I am proud of every single one of them and what they stand for.
I don’t want this to sound cheesy or cliché. Patriotism is an abstract idea that has often been used and abused in order for someone to make a few extra dollars. But I believe it is my patriotism that drives me to this place. This “trip” to the Pacific is more than a trip: it is a pilgrimage. I have trekked thousands of miles in order to trek a few hundred more tomorrow to walk where men fought and died on the beaches of Iwo Jima. In addition to seeing this place for myself, I want to honor the men who fought on the beaches for something they believed in so much that they put their lives on the line. I believe that by honoring the thousands of men who served on Iwo Jima, I will also honor all men and women in uniform who serve (and have served) their country over the course of American history. It is not nearly enough, especially considering all of the men and women who paid the ultimate sacrifice, but for now it is the least I can do.
I apologize if this seems ramble-y. I have had these thoughts tumbling around in my head for weeks and I don’t know if this makes sense. But it’s from my heart and I guess that is all that matters. We leave for Iwo Jima in four hours. We will arrive in about 6 hours. I’ll write about my experiences there tomorrow evening after we get back.
Monday, March 16, 2009
Day One: Part Three
(In which we play tourist and don’t see our destination but find an awesome Chinese food place)
Sunday, March 15, 2009
The jet lag fairy visited me again this morning, although not as early as yesterday. It’s a perfect time to catch up on my posting. Yesterday was so jamb-packed with activities that we were on the run from about 7:30 until about 11:30pm. Now the question stands: can I remember everything we did?
Day One: Part One
(Playing tourists with little to no physical excursion)
Breakfast was served from 6am to 8am; it was quite a spread, too. I met the trip’s nurse, Ellie Bertrand, on the elevator to breakfast and she invited me to join her for breakfast. I saw a few of my classmates at breakfast, but sat at a different table. I used the time to meet new people, to include Charlie, a WWII veteran from California. Part of my joy of traveling comes from the meeting of new people. I think there are a lot of folks on the trip who want to talk to the students from MTSU as we are clearly the youngest travelers on this trip. Almost every person I have talked to so far tell me how wonderful it is that we have taken this opportunity to visit these places of history.
Breakfast doubled as a briefing time; we were oriented to the touring company and the structure of the trip. We finished by watching a film that is usually shown at the War the in Pacific National Historical Park about Guam in World War II. We will be visiting the park later in the week, but won’t have enough time to watch the film when we actually go.
We then broke into two groups. One group composed of veterans and families of veterans went to meet the admiral while the other group went on an outing that would include a visit to Gef Pa’go, a cultural village. While I am technically a family-member of two Pacific veterans, there was a misunderstanding within the lists so I went to the cultural village instead of the admiral’s house. That worked out, though, as I got to go with more of the class to see more of the island. Three members of our group to the admiral’s house, so we made plans to meet later in the day to go on a hike during our free time in the afternoon.
Six of my classmates, several others from the trip, and I loaded a bus to set off sightseeing. On our way to the cultural village, we stopped at the remnants from Fort Nuestra Senora de la Soledad at a cliff overhang. It proved to be a fantastic photo op, as landscapes of ocean and island could be seen from almost every angle. We then continued on to our next destination.
We arrived at Gef Pa’go. I am not sure what any of us expected to find when we got there. The “village” had several reconstructed huts along a beach and a large pavilion where we were served a traditional Chamorro meal. I didn’t get to eat a lot, as I sat with another group of people who wanted talk; I love talking to new people but the moving of my mouth to engage in conversation also has a tendency to prevent me from eating. But I enjoyed (most) of the food. We then went on our tour around the village; we learned traditional Chamorro methods of coconut shucking and use, salt production, basket weaving, and rope making. As I walked around, what felt like a bruise on my foot started to throb and thought make something was stuck on my sandal. I sat down to examine my foot only to discover a piece of coral embedded itself into the arch of my foot. Evidently that is what I get for running into the ocean the night before. In all my excitement of wanted to experience the Pacific Ocean, I neglected to wear any footwear as I ran into the waves. Nurse Ellie helped me and I got the piece out in time to finish the tour and breeze through the gift shop. I will upload video of some of the tour later today.
Day One: Part Two
(Playing tourists with an insane amount of physical excursion)
We left the village to go back to the hotel. There we met up with the other members of our group and Ben Hayes. Ben is a graduate student from MTSU who works as Park Ranger at the War in the Pacific NHP. He helped orient the class with our trip to Guam prior to our departure. Ben knows more about the island than we did so he offered to take us on a hike; we were going to visit Mount Lamlam, a Sherman tank, and maybe some waterfalls. We got off to a later start time than anticipated, but that did not stop nor slow us down.
Mount Lamlam is the tallest point on the island of Guam and you can see just about every part of the island from its peak. We got to the base of the mountain (really just a tall hill), loaded up our packs, reapplied sunscreen, and then started for out assent. We had to go down a muddy mini-valley before we could start going up and on the way down, we had our first “casualty.” Lindsey slipped on the way down, and although she was not seriously injured, the fall shook her up and she realized she did not have proper footwear. As we reached the first of many hills leading to the top, she decided to turn around and go back and Chad decided he would go back and wait with her at the base of the mountain. Two down, eight more to go. We started climbed with a fairly quick pace. Two ROTC classmates, being the most physically fit of the group, started leading as the rest of the group started spacing out according to our fitness levels.
I am not going to lie: that climb was rough. I have been training for a 10 mile run while spending time on the stairmaster in preparation for this trip. There was no preparation for that climb. Or I possibly felt over-confident in my fitness levels. Or I was just sleep-deprived, food-deprived, and crazy.
The first hill was a little muddy and just about every person hiking up learned NOT to grab the sword grass for support the hard way. My hands are still covered with scratches and cuts from the razor-like leaves. The grasses were very tall; at times, I was in over my head (literally). The growth was so thick that I didn’t have to look for the trail, as it served more like a track to follow. If I veered off to one side or the other I wouldn’t be able to move because of the grass density. I didn’t have a choice because if I looked up, the grass would likely scratch my face. I rolled down my sleeves to prevent scratches on my arm but the grass still caught me. I also wore shorts which proved to be an idea about as smart as running into the ocean barefoot the night before. The grasses clearly were put there as a booby trap to prevent Indiana Jones from finding the golden monkey at the top of the hill. While that may be an outlandish figure of my imagination, I had to think of something to distract myself from the fact that my muscles were burning, my lungs were on fire, and the plants were mauling me alive.
The 25-minute hike lasted closer to an hour, but we made it to the top. As each of us made it to the top, we were able to breathlessly take in the fantastic view. I am sure the view would have taken my breath away if the hike hadn’t first. At the top of the mountain, Ben told us that it is technically the highest mountain in the world if measured from the bottom of the Mariana Trench. That made the victory of conquering that mound of earth taste so much sweeter. I may die a death of a thousand cuts, but I can at least say I have climbed the highest mountain in the world.
I am going to take a short break so that I may sojourn to breakfast, but I will continue with Day One: Part Three after breakfast. I am also going to try to load some videos up later today, as well.
Saturday, March 14, 2009
They were correct.
We only had a few minutes in the Houston airport once we made it to our gate. I think the highlight of the whole day was the iPod vending machine. No joke! Just swipe you card, type in your choice, and you could get any color iPod nano, maybe some earbuds, or just iPod cases and other accessories. Regardless of your choice, you freakin’ get an iPod from a machine! I think I am still tripping about that. From Houston we boarded our plane to Honolulu. That was only an eight-hour flight. We had a few minutes in Honolulu before we boarded our final plane to Guam. That flight was also only eight hours.
It is fun traveling with a group of people who have no idea about my dislike of germs. I am holding out, though. Let’s see how long it takes them to figure out that I am actually neurotic about a series of things (Bethany has already learned that I prefer to eat my m&ms two at a time, preferably two of the same color and Chad has learned that I love to airplane dance in my seat).
I forgot what 80 degrees with humidity feels like at nighttime. On the planes, I had been breathing so much recycled air that all I wanted to do was take a deep breath of outside air. Since we landed around sunset, I’ve only got to see limited island and beach-ness. Guam at night looks like a combination of LA, what I remember of Hawaii, and Japan: lots of neon lights and American stores to draw Japanese tourists.
When we got to the hotel we had a “Chamorro Welcome.” In fact, we had kids singing to us, folks adorning us with shell necklaces while offering us juices to our hearts content. Juggling a camera, my windbreaker, two carry-ons while trying to be gracious as I am assaulted with welcomes was a little overwhelming. But the kids put on a good show (see the video).
Plane dancing only helps so much with 18 hours of in-flight time. So we went out to the ocean that is within several yards of your hotel and swam in the moonlight. It may have been a long day, but it has been a good one.
Thursday, March 12, 2009
Wednesday, March 11, 2009
As per Angela’s suggestion, I will keep a blog for the next two weeks of my travels. It may have been a smart idea to blog my last two weeks' worth of travels, but you can't change the past.
For those of you who don't know, I am headed to the Central Pacific, specifically Guam, Iwo Jima, and Peleliu. I am going on a faculty-led study abroad trip to a series of World War II battle sites. As it turns out, I had relatives fight (and receive injuries) on both Iwo Jima and Peleliu. I am also going with the intention of documenting this trip via video. One video project will document Middle Tennessee State University during WWII in a more didactic manner, hopefully to air on the University’s television channel at some point. The other film will document this class as it travels to and explores these sites. That is the film that I am most looking forward to.
I could list a variety of reasons of why I decided to go on this trip (to explore, for the adventure, because this literally is a chance of a lifetime, I'm young) and the reason would be all those things, but more. The trip technically has nothing to do with my thesis. I could argue that as a student studying cultural resource management, this trip benefits me by allowing me to see a variety of historically and culturally significant sites and learn about how they are managed, but that's not why I am going. I could also say that the trip allows me to work with film in a manner (and topic!) that I am interested in. My reason for going exceeds the adventure. More people summit Mt. Everest than Mt. Suribachi on Iwo Jima, as the island is only open to civilians one day a year. The likelihood that my children’s generation will have this opportunity is very slim. I want to see these sites for myself. Additionally, I lack the ability to say “no” when offered chances to see new places (much to the chagrin of my wallet). I live without regrets, even if it means incorporating ramen into my diet.
It is my intention to load videos and pictures here to share. One of my classmates will also be doing some GIS work and uploading things to Google Earth, so hopefully I will be able to connect to that as well. I should have no problem accessing internet while on Guam, but Peleliu may be another story (we shall see).
Excitement is hard to portray via text. I have been looking forward to this trip since last August. It is hard to believe that I will be on a plane headed for Guam in less than 48 hours. I leave Nashville at 6:00am (Tennessee time) on Friday, March 13th and arrive in Guam at 6:10pm (Guam time) on Saturday, March 14th. I should probably go pack and by “pack,” I mean figure out what is important enough to be included in my airline-allotted 50lbs of checked luggage.