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The daily climb up the mountain was what I was most anxious about before the trip. Yet the 1-hour hike seemed to have grown on me as soon as I settled in. As strenuous as it is, the hike entails an experience I’ve never had in my life.

Don’t get me wrong, it is not an easy climb as I would still be covered in sweat and venting as I reach the top. I remember the first time we hiked up – all of us carrying huge backpacks. We’ve just been dropped off from a 7-hour drive from Lomé, and I was more ready than ever to walk again. We set off energised, anticipating the beautiful village of Koukoudé at the top of the mountain where the villagers would be serving us a big feast – the same anticipation that seemed to sped up my heartbeat as we reached the first visible building. “That was not hard at all!” I said proudly to our local guide, Paketam, only to find out that we were not even halfway through. Oh, alright, let’s continue then.

The next 30 minutes seemed like an eternity. Several other houses emerged along the way, my excitement rising and falling: yet every one of them became a point of disappointment. When we finally reached the village, I was exhausted, panting in jazzy rhythms, “This is gonna be my life for the next 50 days.”

The next time I climbed, I expected the worst. After I saw that initial building, I put on some music and adopted the “just walk!” mentality: I thought nothing of the ending point, nothing of milestones, nothing of the distance. Instead, I just continued stepping ahead, one after another… before I knew it, I reached the end feeling a lot less fatigued. For my entire life I had been taught to zoom out, to look at the big picture, and to have a goal in mind. Little did I know that endurance would in fact be born out of the undistracted march of focusing on the present. That is, perhaps, the reason why Togolese people could live such a stoic life. Hence, the daily hike became a meditative practice, because it forced me to clear my thought through focusing on my steps.

From the third time onwards, I had left-over strength to race the hike. I would record my timings for each hike, and be pleasantly surprised by my rapid improvement. I could feel the sore in my thigh from climbing up the big rocks along the trail. But every time I reached the top, I was rewarded by the cooling breeze, stunning view and an indescribable sense of accomplishment. By the fifth time, I was already accustomed to the climb, and could shift my attention to enjoying the scenery along the way. It was an incredible experience, because every time I revisit the same trail, I would discovered something new: it could be a beautiful homestead, a bunch of petit yet brilliant blue flowers, a delicately arranged field, a sprouting yam vine, or a running stream. Every time, the nature presents beautiful surprises; every time, I found myself on a brand-new journey of discovery.

Now I would climb the mountain whenever the weather allows, for no particular purpose except to hike, savouring the last couple of weeks of free aerobics, meditation and detoxification.