Sunday, March 15, 2009

Day One: Parts 1 & 2

As I write this, my body is screaming at me so loud that I can hardly hear my music. And have no doubt, I have turned up my iPod in an attempt to drown out that noise. My roommate is still sleeping.


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.


benjaminratcliffe said...

I wish we could have made it to the tank - perhaps on Thursday? Oh, and if you thought hiking through the sword grass via an established trail was hard, try no trail in the pitch black darkness without a flashlight. Did I mention that old ladies and children carry huge wooden crosses up that trail every Easter wearing only roller skates?

ekg said...

Roller skates!! That must be the trick, then.