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Nature's Finest.

Bridget Connelly

The trip to the Mahale Mountains, was the beginning of a time that would become deeply healing and important for all three of us. That’s what travel has the power to do — allows you to see landscapes your heart knows you need to see, meet people you need to connect with and ultimately provides an opportunity to arrive at a new, deeper understanding of yourself.

I knew this place would be other-worldy, but it contained something special that I can not accurately put into words — a magic of sorts. The land was as if no one had been on it before — untouched, pure beauty.  All waking hours were spent in it, removed and existing with one another.  We arose in the mornings to mountain explorations. Our afternoons featured a whole lot of resting and reading on the beach. By evening we were lakeside, huddled around the bonfire. Days started early and if you know me, you know I love/need a good 8 hours. But here I didn't mind. Nature began recharging and rejuvenating the chambers of our hearts and minds.

The three of us were coming off a year of painful loss, challenge and heart break in different, but similar ways. In those Mahale Mountains, we were was able to feel, process, let go and have one of the most memorable trips of our lives. In the quietness after sunrise, in what felt like the middle of nowhere — I reflected, felt some areas I had been pushing away, and came through with a deep calmness and sense of gratitude. Silence and alone time can be avoidable places.  I had been more or less steering clear from that for the greater part of the year. It was packed full with activities and people— all very needed at the time, but I was cautious of places my mind might go if I gave it a chance to think. I came to crave it here. Taking long walks along the water’s edge, gazing out onto the great, big, beautiful unknowns — quite figuratively and literally.

Everything about this place equaled tranquility, from the cabanas along the beach, to the attentive thoughtful staff, to the mountains that enveloped the land. That backdrop made us feel like we were safe and secluded from everything — our own secret private oasis. The mountains were covered with acres upon acres of lush green trees, filled with species of all kinds and unchartered territories.  Although I felt like we chartered all the territories with our daily, native hikes through the bush. We learned more about wildlife, the need for preservation of this land, and the animals then our brains could keep up with.

The best part? Trekking for and with the CHIMPS! I had never seen a chimp in the wild, let alone a few feet away. These guys replicate human actions, from the way they engage with one another to their political system. They have a system of hierarchy that everyone adheres too. The families stick together —they take care of one another, hold hands, provide food for one another, and love one another.  As they became more comfortable with our presence, the males (or so we were told) began flirting with us! They quickly found a way into our hearts. We awoke eager each morning to forge new paths through the mountains, to find our new buddies. One day they even came down to the beach to hang with us. I mean, honestly, I miss them!

On the last day, we went out for a safari boat ride. I was pretty adamant about not jumping in the lake that contains who knows what — but for certain crocodiles and hippos. After plenty of reassurance from the guides that the “deadly ones” do not swim out to the middle, we threw our worries (and probably lives) to the wind and took the plunge! As I sank in, I felt the warmth of the delicate water encompass my body. I emerged to a view that is permanently engrained in me. The view: mountains soaring ahead and behind me, the staff and my mom smiling and laughing above (assuming at our idiocy) on our big wooden boat, and my best friend swimming beside me. The feeling: surreal, being in this soft and gentle water, surrounded by four countries and cultures. I floated and felt weightless, careless and content to the fullest. Thinking about the year, where I had been and how far I had come. How beautiful life is, even the messy parts. How grateful I was to be sharing this experience with people I cherish — in this place. I climbed onto the back of the boat, sat down and had a moment. I felt almost… cleansed, renewed, invigorated. We swam, jumped, laughed, ate and drank the afternoon away of this unforgettable day.

The day had already been more then I could have asked for, but we still had one more surprise in store. A BBQ beach dinner, complete with a bonfire, and my favorite — bubbly. On the pier’s edge, we toasted to a stay that we could not have dreamed up. God was really showing off up there —  He gave us a sunset that pierced our souls and left our mouths agape with astonishment. As I melted into bed that last night, I felt a deep bittersweet feeling. Immense gratitude for having been able to experience Mahale in this way. Dismayed to say goodbye to this remote gem, including the remarkable people and wildlife it holds. But the feeling that resonated with me the most — hope, and a high of what lies ahead. To add to that feeling, giddiness over one last returning boat ride and the rest of our trip!

Life is pretty wild, and unexplainable at times. But I’m certain travel, loved ones and faith have the ability to mend up the broken pieces and make you whole again. Maybe not in the way you imagined, but the way you are supposed to be put back together. Thank you Mahale (the chimps, staff, lake dips, still mountain mornings) for being a part of my journey. It is forever changed.