Epilogue

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The ghost that haunts me

It’s been two months since I returned home and I feel unsettled. Discontented. Full of wanderlust. I close my eyes and all I see is Kilimanjaro. It’s still with me. Haunting me. How can 8 days on one mountain completely alter a life? My heart aches to return to Africa. 

I constantly ponder my next, great adventure. What will I do that will be on par or even top Kili? I’m doomed to a life of searching for the next great mountain. Yet, I worry that, though there are many mountains, there are none quite like Kilimanjaro. 

My friend and dear Kili climbing companion, Adrienne, recently wrote to me and mentioned that she often feels similar thoughts. She said, “Everyday I still think of Kili and wish I had the luxury of just dropping everything and hopping on a plane back to Africa.” She then went on to mention that her South African friend told her that “once you go to Africa, it will stay in your blood.” She’s right. I inoculated myself against all sorts of fevers before heading to Africa but the one I never counted on contracting was Africa herself. It consumes me. 

Adrienne also shared this beautiful poem. I think it’s the best possible epilogue to the greatest journey of my lifetime. Also, let this serve as a warning to those who dream of going to Africa and climbing mighty Kilimanjaro: The person you send can never return home. Instead, you leave Africa completely altered, changed…unable to be what you once were. For me, that’s been a gift. 

Who Has Known Heights
Who has known heights and depths shall not again
Know peace-not as the calm heart knows
Low, ivied walls; a garden close;
And though he tread the humble ways of men
He shall not speak the common tongue again.

Who has known heights shall bear forevermore
An incommunicable thing
That hurts his heart, as if a wing
Beat at the portal, challenging;
And yet-lured by the gleam his vision wore-
Who once has trodden stars seeks peace no more.

 
Mary Brent Whiteside
 
 
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The Last Day

So true.

So true.

I woke up early. Despite having no real plans, I had lots to do. I needed to eat breakfast, check out, stash my stuff with the front desk, and meet Clamian. I scurried around my room, getting ready, before heading down to breakfast one last time. My routine was the same…corn flakes, passion fruit juice, and tea with a dash of milk.

After eating I stored my things with the front desk, checked out, then waited for Clamian. He was surprisingly punctual. I expected African Time but he was obviously operating on American Time. Much to my chagrin, Nicholas was not with him. I was hoping to see him again but Clamian brought another driver instead. Unfortunately his name was a Maasai name and difficult to remember. It started with an L. I asked him 35 times to repeat it but still had trouble remembering/pronouncing it and I just couldn’t bring myself to ask a 36th time. He was a lovely young man – very soft spoken and polite.

Clamian took me back to the coffee shop where we first met and he bought me another cup of coffee. He also bought coffee for me to take home. I thought this was an incredible gesture but all his kindness made me feel awkward for being unable to return it in kind. We talked for a short time and he suggested I visit a place called Tanzanite One. It’s the largest tanzanite mining company and their office in Arusha has a small museum dedicated to “all things tanzanite”. The tour is free and afterwards, visitors can browse and purchase stones. However, there’s no obligation. I had nothing else planned for the day so it sounded like a good idea. My ride to the airport wasn’t due until 2pm so I had four hours to kill.

Clamian said he was in a hurry so we said our goodbyes and I hopped in the car with my new friend, L (that’s what I will call him from here on out) and we drove to Tanzanite One. We arrived a very nondescript building on a side street. It certainly didn’t look like a place where precious gems are housed.

We went climbed several flights of stairs and encountered a security guard who searched us before we passed through several locked doors into a small room. I felt like I was in a Bourne Identity movie…fancy locked doors, people with machine guns. Good fun on a Saturday! I was greeted by a short but handsome man who had a perfect American accent yet looked Indian/Black. Turns out he studied in the US and perfected the accent. Good on him.  He took me on a small tour and explained the history of tanzanite, the mining process, etc. It was pretty interesting. According to geologists, there’s only 10 years worth of tanzanite left for extraction. After that, all deposits will be too deep in the earth to reach. The theory is that anyone in possession of tanzanite will have a great investment piece when that happens, especially since the gem is 1,000 times rarer than a diamond. Oh la la!

When the history/geology tour was over I watched a film about tanzanite which was mildly romantic in that Toto/Africa (I can’t get away from it) sort of way. I suppose the purpose of it was to jazz up potential customers into buying some stones because the moment the movie was over, I was escorted to an area full of jewelry cases where I was instructed to peruse the stones.

Dear reader(s) allow me to give you a lil’ background info on yours truly. I’m not like most women. I don’t really care about jewelry, especially expensive jewelry. Sometimes I wear it, but most of the time I don’t. Diamonds and the like just don’t excite me. In fact, I have joked that REI is my Tiffany’s. With that said, I have to admit I was sucked in by the tanzanite. But it wasn’t for the reasons one might thing. I didn’t care about the investment potential or anything like that. But the idea of taking home a real piece of Tanzania tugged at my romantic, traveling, heart. I was shown a case of stones which ranged up to $22,000. I laughed and asked what they had for $100 or less. Luckily for me they did have a few rocks in my range. After much hemming and hawing, I chose a round stone. Once I paid for it, the salesman took it out of the case and handed it to me, asking me to hide it away carefully in my purse. He then gave me some ominous instructions: “Whatever you do, don’t let anyone know that you bought anything here.” I understood what he was saying. He knew that people probably watched the comings and goings of the building and when they saw mzungu, it probably meant money and stones – A perfect scenario for a thief.

L and his buddy (L is on the R - hahaha)

L and his buddy (L is on the R – hahaha)

Well I’m not an idiot and I didn’t say jack to anyone so it was never an issue. Once we got back in

My Maasai friends

My Maasai friends

the car, L asked me if I wanted to go meet some of his friends. Since I still had three hours to blow, I agreed. We drove a few blocks to a section of town where Maasai warriors hang out and sell rough tanzanite stones. According to L, the Maasai warriors  acquire rough stones found out in the Maasai land and sell it to the mining companies. Not sure why they hang around the streets rather than just heading to the company. I think I asked but the answer was lost in translation. L was very excited for me to meet his friends. He went on and on about how kind Maasai are and that I would love his friends. He was right! We walked just a short distance before coming across a large group of young Maasai warriors. They looked so amazing in their blue and red blankets! As soon as I greeted them with “jambo” they all started smiling and giggling and crowding around me.  I’d love to credit my charming personality but I think it was just because I was mzungu. It seemed they were as fascinated by me as I was of them. Via translation services from L, I talked to the Maasai guys about where I was from, that I had climbed Kili, and that I thought Maasai were awesome! We all laughed as they tried out their English on me. One young Maasai guy walked up and said, “Mzungu, I love you!” and the whole group erupted into laughter. I pulled out my iPhone and started taking pictures and suddenly more Maasai appeared. They loved looking at the pictures and I joked around with one really striking guy in a blue blanket that he didn’t smile when I took the pics and we’d have to do them all over again until he started smiling. Once again, they all went nuts with laughter. I started to realize that part of the reason I love the Maasai so much is that they thought I was hilarious!  How can I not love anyone who thinks I’m a comedic genius?

I had such a great time hanging out with them and I also really enjoyed the odd looks I received from passersby who obviously wanted to know why some white American chick was standing around chillin’ with some Maasai warriors. Soon it was time for me to head back to my hotel so L and I said our goodbyes to my new Maasai homies and headed back to the vehicle. We chatted a lot on the way back and I have to say, he was such a sweet guy. I really enjoyed meeting him. Tanzanians are just fantastic, warm people! Interestingly, I feel like it’s easier for me to make friends in foreign countries than back home. Why is that? Is it just because the cultural difference gives people something to discuss? Maybe I’m just more myself when I travel….

L dropped me off at the hotel. I got my bags out of lock up and went to the “Zanzibar Lounge” and chilled out with some drinks, a bowl of chips, and my Kindle for the next two hours.  I did a lot of reflecting during that time and waves of sadness came over me. I didn’t want to leave Africa. I was in love with with her! The two weeks I’d spent in Africa had been the most amazing two weeks of my life! Truly, the greatest adventure of my life. Not only did I climb the tallest free standing mountain in the world but I met so many wonderful people and witnessed amazing, once in a life time things.  For two weeks I felt like Hemingway and Sir Edmund Hillary. I lived the life I had always dreamed of living. A life of high adventure, friendships, laughter, and excitement. A life of absolute discovery.  How could I leave it all behind and return to the drudgery of my normal, American life?

Kili!!!!!

Kili!!!!!

I was engrossed in an episode of Breaking Bad on my Kindle when a familiar face arrived by my side. It was Emanuel! He was the guy who picked me up at the airport and now he had arrived to take me back. I wanted to be happy to see him but all I could think of was that my adventure was coming to it’s final conclusion. Emanuel is great and has an easy laugh. We giggled the entire time and talked a lot about the NGO he wants to start to help students. I told him I’d help him in anyway I could and gave him my contact info. We drove down the same familiar roads I’d grown to know in my short time around Arusha and when we slowed to make the turn onto the airport road, my heart sank. But then…like a gift from Africa herself, I glanced to my left…and there she was! Mighty Kilimanjaro! I started to scream excitedly and begged Emanuel to pull over. Despite spending 8 long days climbing her, I’d yet to see Kili from below. The clouds which usually surround her kept her hidden from view on ground level. I jumped out of the van and ran quickly to the edge of a sunflower field and took a craptastic pic with my phone. I regret that I didn’t have my SLR ready but it was packed away. 😦 Still, I will NEVER forget that moment or the sense of pride I felt in myself for making it to the top. Only those who’ve been there (Arlette, Adrienne, and my new friend Stephanie…you guys get it) can understand what that feels like. It’s not a gloating sort of pride…but a humble feeling of “omg, I did that? I climbed that?!”. Then as quickly as she revealed herself, she disappeared into the clouds. I walked back to the van full of more emotion that I could ever adequately describe in words.

JRO

JRO

We pulled up to Kilimanjaro International aka JRO and Emanuel carried my things to a cart. Once again, I was saying goodbye to someone else (and putting money in their hand). I wished him luck and walked into the airport. The airport was small but that suited me. I was tired and didn’t feel like traipsing across creation. I was “greeted” by a man who looked over my passport then stared at me long enough to make me feel uncomfortable. Do I look shady? Dunno…. I asked him where the VAT office was and he pointed toward the left. It was closed. Typical. “Oh I know…I’ll go get my tickets.” So I walked to the ticket counter. It was closed. *sigh* To beat it  all, there was nothing to do while I waited because all the shops were beyond passport control and I couldn’t go through passport control without a ticket. It was like being on a giant, African airport hamster wheel. 

I waited around, played some Candy Crush, then decided to give the VAT office another go. It was open! Yah! I walked in to find an American woman going to eff off about something. Two dudes were working and obviously annoyed with the raving woman. I showed them my receipt for the tanzanite. I was told I couldn’t get my tax back because I didn’t spend enough. Hakuna matata. Apparently the woman was ranting and raving for the same reasons. But instead of just rolling with it, she decided she’d scream. I wonder if that worked?

By the time I got out, the ticket counter was open so I hopped in line behind some French people.  Watching them made me hate croissants and Joan of Arc. I really can’t explain what it is about the French but I hope that, in the event of an alien invasion in which the fate of the world depends on interaction with the human race, the aliens don’t decide to march into a Parisian cafe. Just sayin”….Where was I? Oh yes…when I got to the counter luckily everything was underweight so all I had to take on board was my purse. Traveling light and swift! Unfortunately for me they said the system was down and I’d have to check in after arriving in Addis Ababa to get my boarding pass for the second leg. Fudge.

I went through customs, found a seat next to a trendy British dude and continued crushing candy. Eventually some airline peeps came around with boarding passes. Apparently the system was up and all was right with the world. I got my boarding pass and shortly thereafter it was time to go. At JRO you have to walk across the tarmac to board the plane – 70’s style. Walking across the concrete, I breathed in deeply, taking in the smell of wood fires which greeted me two weeks earlier. I looked towards the horizon, desperate for one last look at the mountain that inspired a dream five years prior…but she was no where to be seen. So with a broken heart and a mind full of memories, I climbed the steps towards the hatch and promised myself that I’d return. I left my heart there just to be sure I do….

The End.

If you want to find my heart, it's here.

If you want to find my heart, it’s here.

Categories: Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Safari Day 2 – Ngorongoro Crater

When Nicholas dropped me off the day before, he asked me to report to the main building by 6AM sharp. He said that the earlier we arrive at the park, the better our chances will be of seeing game. I set my iphone for 5AM. I figured that would give me plenty of time to get ready, pack my gear, and slide out in time to enjoy a cup of tea before striking out.

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This guy looks like a hack compared to my skills

More frightening than the Luftwaffe!

More frightening than the Luftwaffe!

When the alarm went off, I actually felt really refreshed and well rested. The bed, despite it’s shabby rustic appearance, was extremely comfortable. I crawled out from the mosquito netting and piddled around the room, getting ready, and ensuring everything was packed up and ready to go. At 5:45AM I decided it was time to head down to the main building so I walked to the back of the room to grab one of my bags when suddenly I detected movement out of the corner of my eye. I turned around, my brain working overtime to process and deduce what I had seen. “What was that?”, I wondered. “An insect? A bird? A Somali pirate?”. Just then I saw it again! It was a BAT!!!!!! Now I like to pride myself on my fearlessness, especially when it comes to  things people (particularly women) find terrifying. In nature bats don’t bother me. But somehow, seeing a GINORMOUS, pterodactyl size creature practicing flight maneuvers in my room turned me into a screaming girl. I should really consider joining Seal Team 6 because I doubt few people could hit the deck and low crawl faster than I did that morning.

Somali pirate, bat...it's easy to confuse.

Somali pirate, bat…it’s easy to confuse.

As I inched my way towards the table where my camera sat, the bat engaged in strafing missions above my head. Suddenly I became very thankful that the staff probably didn’t comprehend English well enough to understand the shrieking curses that escaped my mouth. But much like the British during the Blitz, I refused to give in to terror from above so I steadied my nerves and continued my low crawl. Somehow I finally managed to rescue all my gear and made it to the door without contracting rabies or having a bat make a lovely nest in my hair. When I reached behind me and pulled the door closed, waves of relief washed across me. I was out! Now I just had to cross the dark, no man’s land that stood between my cottage/hut and the main building. I broke my running PR and later received reports that Usain Bolt was upset that I also broke his record.

Amazingly, the bat shenanigans only ate 5 minutes of my time and I still had 10 minutes to spare upon arriving at the main building. I went inside but the place was empty. However, the staff did have a pot of tea set out for me. They also prepared boxed breakfasts and lunches for Nicholas and I. Sweet! At 5:55 Nicholas arrived and seemed surprised that I was there. I laughed and said, “American time, not African time”. He got a kick out of that! I finished my tea and we headed to the Land Rover. As we pulled out of the parking lot Nicholas pointed to the clock which said 5:59AM and said, “American time!”.

The drive to Ngorongoro crater was dark. Yet, man and beast were already stirring. I saw large packs of feral dogs roaming the streets and occasionally saw people walking down the road, presumably heading to work. Nicholas gave me a lesson on the crater, including how it was created and which animals live there. He referred to it as the “Garden of Eden”. I couldn’t wait to see!

The beautiful Ngorongoro Crater

The beautiful Ngorongoro Crater

Spotted Hyaena

Spotted Hyaena

When we finally arrived at the park gate, Nicholas went in to handle the paperwork. There were TONS of truck drivers and a few dala dala drivers. Apparently some use the roads in and around the crater as a short cut. It took a very long time for him to get the necessary paperwork and by the time he returned to the Land Rover, the sun was coming up. Unfortunately, it was cold and foggy. Extremely foggy.  Nicholas mentioned that the drive would be dangerous due to the fog. He said it wasn’t uncommon for buffalo or elephants to stand in the road. If we hit one, it could be disastrous. Thoroughly terrified I made sure my seat belt was on and said a few prayers. We saw lots of dung in the road but thankfully we never saw any animals. After miles and miles of foggy, dirt road driving we finally reached the bottom of the crater and the fog melted away. It was still very overcast and cold but Nicholas said this would work to our advantage. The cooler air would keep the animals active longer. Just a few minutes into the safari I saw my first animals: a spotted hyaena. It was a devilish looking thing. He (or she…I couldn’t tell) ran across the road in front of us and stopped to stare at me while I snapped off photos.  It was pretty exciting to see such an amazing creature so early on but Nicholas simply giggled and said, “just wait”. Giggity!

Lion after killing a wildebeest

Lion after killing a wildebeest

Bloody Lion

Bloody Lion

We took a right onto a path and immediately Nicholas said, “Oh, I think this is going to be good”. I had no expectations about what it could be but after yesterday’s fairly tame day, I didn’t expect it to be anything too wild. Boy, was I wrong! We slowly approached another Land Rover which was parked. The passengers were standing up, staring out of the open roof. Nicholas suddenly became very animated. A lion! A lioness had killed a wildebeest and was eating it 15 feet from from me! After Nicholas killed the engine, I could hear her snapping the bones and making a strange, whining noise as she ate. I’ve had pet cats make a similar noise when they are extremely hungry as well as extremely happy to be eating. I watched in amazement as her breakfast was cut short. Hyaenas had moved in and were now circling her. The sound they made was terrifying! I’ve heard it on t.v. programs before but to hear it in the flesh, 15 feet away, sent shivers up my spine. It’s an eerie, frightening mix of a laugh and a whine. Had I not been in the Land Rover, safe and protected, I would have beat my PR that I set earlier in the morning when I tangled with the bat. The lioness held her ground when the first hyaena approached but it wasn’t long before four or five hyaenas started moving in. Sensing the danger, the lioness got up and started to slowly walk off. I was shocked that this massive cat seemed threatened by the hyaenas but Nicholas explained that one hyaena is no match for a lion but several hyaenas present a a threat.  Personally, I think she was just pissed they were making all that racket while she was trying to enjoy her morning coffee. We followed her as she walked up the road. At one point she was three feet from me and actually looked me square in the eye. I desperately wanted to reach out and touch her but that feeling changed when she turned and walked directly toward me. Despite being in a land rover, my instinct took over and I cowered away from the window. My primal fear was intensified by the fact she still had wildebeest blood around her mouth. Then, just like a house cat, she lied down and started to groom herself. Cute! I watched her for a few more minutes before asking Nicholas to head back to the kill.

Sleepy Kitty

Sleepy Kitty

Hyaena's eating

Hyaena’s eating

By now hyaenas were going to town on the poor creature. But other animals were also making their way on the scene. Adorable jackals were skulking about, trying to slip in unnoticed and grab a piece of food. Unfortunately, the hyaenas were selfish bastards and snapped and growled at the jackals every time they tried. Now and again a lucky lil’ jackal would manage to snatch some wildebeest meat, much to my delight! It was also really cool to watch the food chain/circle of life in progress. One wildebeest was providing food for a lion, a family of hyaenas, countless jackals and many vultures and eagles,  who were now circling overhead and hopping closer and closer to the corpse. Though I felt sad for the poor wildebeest, it was hard not to feel excited and amazed by the entire process.   On another note, does it make me strange that I ate my boxed breakfast while watching the hyaenas chow down on the wildebeest. I remember thinking, “Hmm, is this a little odd?” while eating a piece of bacon while they snapped bones and devoured organ meat. Two predators enjoying a meal together…lol.

Zebras were everywhere

Zebras were everywhere

Buffalo

Buffalo

After breakfast, we continued our game drive. I saw more zebras and wildebeest than I could shake a stick at. They were awesome but I didn’t feel the same intrigue for grazers as I did for the predators and scavengers. Don’t get me wrong. They were beautiful  but you can only look at 100 head herds before you’re ready to see something different. Although, I will say that I never got sick of hearing the wildebeest grunting.  Makes me think of National Geographic shows of the Great Migration.  I’d like to see that one day but since I wasn’t heading to the Serengeti, I had to settle for grunting around the watering hole. Now and again we spotted buffalo as well. Did I mention how incredibly cold it was in the crater? I was shocked! I was a few degrees from the equator but I was turning into a Popsicle. Luckily I had a warm fleece but all Nicholas had was a red Maasai blanket which he wrapped up in. I felt terrible for him.

Wildebeest

Wildebeest

After driving around for an hour and seeing a lot of different animals including crown cranes, flamingos, ostrich, and even, far off in the distance, a HUGE elephant bull. Nicholas said he was going to die soon (the elephant, not Nicholas). I wondered how on earth he knew this but he said that the elephants separate themselves from their group and head to a swampy area when they are about to die. He said that when an elephant is very old all they can chew is the grass that grows there. When you see one hanging out there you can be fairly certain his time on earth is almost up. That broke my heart but I felt blessed to see that magnificent animal. He was the largest living thing I’d ever seen. Even larger than the ones I saw in Lake Manyara.  Unfortunately the zoom on my camera wasn’t good enough to take his pic.

As we drove past the swamp area I spotted two lions hunting in the grass. We stopped and watched for awhile.  Nicholas congratulated me once again on having a great eye for spotting game. He asked if I hunted and when I said no, he suggested I take it up since I was so good at spotting animals. I explained I preferred to just watch them.  I digress…the lions stalked through the tall grass but unfortunately for them, the wildebeest caught wind of them and ran. We drove on. While rounding the corner past a pond I spotted my first hippo. Hippos scare the $%#! out of me. I guess I watched too many “When Hippos Attack” videos but if I had the choice between a lion or a hippo, I’d choose the lion. I guess I figure the lion might respond to a nice scratch behind the ears like a kitty cat but where on earth do you rub a hippo? Um…yeah. Where was I? Oh yeah…the hippos were just kind of bobbing up and down in the water but I did see a few standing in the mud. They didn’t really do much. Just flicked their tails, mostly. However, I wasn’t fooled by their sloth-like behavior. I’m pretty sure they were quietly pondering their next vicious attack on some poor human.

Murderers.

Murderers.

Keeping with the murderous hippo theme, Nicholas suggested it would be a good time to eat so we went over to ANOTHER pond that had a picnic area. There were hippos in this one as well. Unlike other areas of the park, tourists are allowed to get out of the vehicles to use the bathroom and eat at a table. I decided to get out and stretch my legs. Camera in hand, I walked a few feet to get a good photo of the hippos. While taking photos I heard a South African man (he sounded Souf Effrikin at least) yell out to some ladies that they should move away from the edge of the water. They didn’t listen and continued to slip closer and closer to the water. He was obviously concerned that one of the hippos might charge and attack/kill the women. They looked at him and rolled their eyes and when they spoke the reason for it all became clear. They were French. I turned to the SA man and said, “Dude, they’re French…let ’em stay.” He gave me a puzzled look and I headed back to the car, periodically turning around in the hope that I’d get to see hippos redeem themselves by taking out some French peeps. No such luck though.

Hippo pond

Hippo pond

Rhino

Rhino

I grew bored waiting for the French women to be devoured by chubby, aquatic animals so we left and headed closer to the crater wall and forest area. Without warning Nicholas became very animated and started going off in Swahili on the radio. Rhino! For those who aren’t up on their rhino knowledge, the black rhino is one of the most endangered animals in the world. They’re very rare and elusive. Yet, word was out that a rhino was on the move. Nicholas started slamming gears and quickly we made our way towards the supposed sighting. I knew something fantastic was going on when I saw 15 other land rovers lined up in a row along the road. I looked across the plain and saw a figure in the distance. I took out my binos and sure enough, it was a rhino! He crept closer and closer, grazing on the tall, brown grass and I suddenly felt very overwhelmed with emotion when it hit me that I was looking at an animal that had been nearly pushed to the point of extinction. He was gorgeous! I watched him move slowly around in circles. Nicholas said the rhino was wanting to cross the road but the land rovers were making him nervous. Not too long after that comment, the rhino started walking in the opposite direction so all of the land rovers started to move quickly in that direction. All the vehicles jammed in tightly and the half a dozen voices started speaking wildly on the radio. The rhino was going to pass in front of us! He was going to cross the road in front of us.  I watched the rhino sprint in front of us but unfortunately there were too many vehicles in my way so I wasn’t able to get a good shot of it. Oh well, sometimes life isn’t about the picture. It’s about the experience. I felt satisfied. Nicholas turned around and congratulated me on being one of the few people who ever get to see a black rhino. He said he has had many clients who spend weeks on safari and never see one. In the few hours I had been in Ngorongoro, I’d seen a lion feast on her kill, watched lions hunt, and saw the rare black rhino! Not too shabby!

Herds

Herds

More zebras

More zebras

Nicholas said he wanted to go to the forest to look for elephants; so, we drove to the edge of the crater to an area that hardly constituted forest. It was more of a stand of trees and a few tall bushes. Along the way we noticed another land rover stopped along the road, observing something. We stared into the horizon for a few minutes before I realized that we were watching another lion hunt. This hunt was much more fascinating to watch because it was almost comical. The lion crouched down and hid very low as it stalked a wildebeest. When the wildebeest wasn’t looking, the lion was slink through the grass and as soon as the wildebeest would turn around, the cat would lie down and be very still. Occasionally, it would pop it’s head up to take a peek. Amazingly, the lion was approaching down wind so the wildebeest couldn’t smell it.  Do they instinctively know how to do that or was that coincidence? I dunno. Nicholas explained that the wildebeest watch one another for signals. One wildebeest knew the lion was there and refused to look anywhere but towards the lion. But I guess that wasn’t a strong enough signal for the wildebeest the lion was stalking. This went on for 45 minutes or so. Nicholas said that it could continue for another hour or so as the lion closed the distance between them. We decided that, having seen the earlier kill, it wasn’t necessary to watch. I will say though, that when watching nature shows, I generally root for the prey because I hate watching things get hurt or killed. But in the crater, it was different. I found myself wanting the lion to win. It’s hard to explain but I guess it was because I realized just how difficult it is to hunt and kill. The hunting process takes HOURS and it’s a life or death situation for all involved. Earlier that morning when I watched the hyaenas, jackals, eagles, vultures, and lions eat and survive another day because of the dead wildebeest, I had a greater respect for how the whole system operates. When watching nature shows, the editing makes it appear as if the lion hunted for three minutes, spied a zebra, took it down then washed, rinsed, and repeated. But it’s NOT like that at all. It requires planning, skill, cunning, and a bit of luck. In short, I suppose the predator in me recognized all that and respected it.

...and more zebras

…and more zebras

Purr, purr, purr

Purr, purr, purr

We made it to the forest but we didn’t see any elephants. I felt okay about that since I saw so many the day before at Lake Manyara. I remember thinking that this “forest-area” seemed like a pretty safe place to be and leaned out the window a little. Just as soon as I did I looked down and saw  two enormous lions curled up on their backs sleeping. Nicholas and I looked at one another and our eyes widened with a “Holy crap! This is awesome!” sort of look. I snapped off pics like paparazzi and watched as they snuggled with one another just as kittens do. They looked incredibly adorable and all I could think of was Sheldon singing “Soft kitty, sleepy kitty, little ball of fur….”. Too bad these soft, lil’ kitties could rip my face off like a man on bath salts.

Did I mention that I saw zebras?

Did I mention that I saw zebras?

It's a hard knock life in the crater

It’s a hard knock life in the crater

Gazelle

Gazelle

Feeling really exhausted and knowing we had a long drive back to Arusha, we agreed it was time to start making our way out of the crater. As we made our exodus, I spotted more ostrich and a family of pumba aka warthogs. The Swahili name for them really is pumba just as simba really means lion. They looked cute as they darted about with their lil’ tails in the air but their tusks looked ferocious. I snapped off a few pics as we rolled by. A few minutes later Nicholas drove up a large hill which overlooked most of the crater. It was beautiful from that vantage point. The crater looked beautiful and just as Nicholas described, it reminded me of the Garden of Eden. We sat there quiet, listening to the sounds of life below us. It was hard for me to imagine that such a small place contained so many creatures engaged in a battle of life and death. Sitting there on top of the hill I became emotional about my African journey.  It was coming to an end and I didn’t want it to. Nicholas said, “Wave goodbye to Ngorongoro” and I did…and with that we headed up and out of the crater.

warthogs

warthogs

Ostrich

Ostrich

When we arrived at the gate we stopped so that Nicholas could complete paperwork. While I waited outside I was entertained by the craziest baboon troop I’d seen on my journey. They were absolute lunatics and so human in their behavior. They walked around the parking lot in search of sandwich scraps left behind by tourists. Then they plopped down in the middle of the road, babies on their back. They chattered and squealed at one another. They were holding traffic up with their antics in the road and unfortunately, one got hit by a car. He took off running, screaming at the top of his lungs. This caused chaos within the troop and lots of baboons ran after the one that got hit, all of them screaming and screeching. The victim finally walked out of the bushes and sat down in the road. Then the most wonderful thing happened: five or six baboons ran up to him and I watched, completely fascinated and with tears in my eyes, as several stroked and comforted him while the others checked him out for injuries. They slowly turned him over and lifted his legs and arms. I assume they were looking for blood or to see if anything was broken. Watching them was a highlight of the trip because it demonstrated that as humans, we are not unique. Many other creatures of the world are capable of love and concern for their families. I think the hit and run victim was okay because he finally sat up and walked to a wall and sat on it. That made me happy!

I saw this in Karatu, the town between Lake Manyara and Ngorongoro

I saw this in Karatu, the town between Lake Manyara and Ngorongoro. Ya know, I wondered what ol’ Hil was up to after leaving the State Department. Now I know!

Once Nicholas returned we started our trip back to Arusha. We talked endlessly about many, many things and I really enjoyed his sense of humor. He was a very funny guy and I laughed so much  that my side hurt.  We talked about his family and also about his job.  During our conversation I mentioned that I wanted to buy a Maasai blanket so Nicholas was kind enough to stop at a shop which sold them. I went in and began negotiations on a blanket and some other items. As I mentioned before, I hate haggling. I’m American and I just want to pay a set price. But I played the game and felt like I worked out a fair deal for all (though I purposely stacked it in the shop’s favor). When I walked out of the shop Nicholas asked if I’d like to have a cup of tea with him. Of course! However, instead of tea I chose Coke. We sat for 20 minutes or so and talked about Americans. Nicholas said that Tanzanians love Americans because we’re open and eager to chat. He said that Americans have a good sense of humor and are interested in learning about the person with whom they speak. He said, “If you were from Europe, I never could have asked you to have tea with me…but you’re American and Americans are laid back. ” I really appreciated hearing this. It’s nice to know somewhere in the world people like us and it was similar to what other Tanzanians had said about Americans as well.

We finished our drinks and pushed on towards Arusha. I told Nicholas that I’d like to stop at the coffee shop we’d visited the day before with Clamian because I wanted to buy coffee for my parents. He said he thought it would be closed by the time we reached Arusha but he’d check with Clamian to see if someone could pick me up the following day and take me. I told him it wasn’t necessary since I could probably buy some coffee at the airport on my way home.

When we finally returned to my hotel, it was around 7PM and dark. We both agreed we were exhausted and happy to be back “home”.  When I got out of the land rover Nicholas told me to hold on while he called Clamian. They talked for a few minutes before the phone was handed to me and I spoke to him. Clamian offered to come get me the next morning and take me into town. So sweet! I handed the phone back to Nicholas and began thanking him for a wonderful adventure. I told him I would tell Clamian about the terrific job he did and he told me he appreciated the kind words. We said our goodbyes and wished one another well. When I shook his hand, I placed a large tip into it. He deserved every penny.

After checking in, I bought a Coke and a bowl of chips. Then I watched the British equivalent of HGTV while I packed my gear for the final time. Tomorrow I would leave Tanzania and with that the greatest adventure of my life would come to an end. I felt depressed. I didn’t want it to end. I didn’t want to return to the hustle and bustle of American life. I didn’t want to rejoin the rat race. I just wanted to stay in Africa but it was not to be….

**one final Tanzania post left – The Last Day**

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Safari Day 1- Lake Manyara and Maasai Land.

After my epic Kilimanjaro adventure, I planned to decompress and relax by going on safari. Since I’m not (yet) independently wealthy, I didn’t have the money (or time) to go to the Serengeti. Instead, I decided to go on a short two day safari to Lake Manyara and Ngorongoro Crater.

When trying to arrange my climb, I ran into difficulties with getting the safari booked with the same company I used for my climb. It wasn’t really anyone’s fault – I just couldn’t get the stars to align and get the price I wanted. I decided to check with other companies and somehow stumbled upon Warrior Trails. Turns out they are owned by a Maasai warrior and that seemed really exotic and exciting. Better yet, they responded to my quote request quickly and had an amazing deal. Sold. I booked my trip. I also mentioned to Cathy, the booking rep, that I would like to visit a Maasai boma. She reminded me that Clamian, the owner, is Maasai and he can arrange for me to visit a village and see a school they are building. She stated that experience would be free. Free, you said? Um…yes, please!

So after 8 days of climbing Africa’s tallest mountain, I was worn out but somehow I managed to pull myself out of bed at 6AM. I had to re-pack all my gear and haul it down to the lobby. I planned to leave most of it at the hotel in their “super secure special closet” and only take the essentials. After climbing in African wilderness, my idea of what constitutes essential had changed so trust me when I say I took very little. It all fit into a tiny bag.

I went to breakfast and played with my phone while I scarfed my corn flakes. Dining alone is an odd feeling. I don’t really mind it but it’s hard to have a conversation with oneself without coming across as strange. The manager did walk over once and asked me how my Kili climb went. He congratulated me on my success. That made me beam with pride!

After breakfast I went to the lobby to hang out and wait for my driver. Unfortunately the lobby was filled with tourists and there was no room for me to sit so I had to loiter around a case full of Tanzanite jewelry. As I waited I struck up a conversation with an American woman around my age from Jersey. She attempted Kilimanjaro  via the Machame route and failed. My heart sank for her when she told me. I just can’t imagine going that far and not making it. But she seemed pretty cool about it all and was also looking forward to her safari. She was heading to Tarangire. I wished her well as she walked out the door to begin her adventure. Meanwhile, I continued to wait…and wait. Then suddenly, I heard “mzungu” and instinctively looked up. The front desk lady was pointing to me. My ride arrived!

Nicholas, my driver and soon to be friend, strolled up to me with a big smile on his face and my first impression was, “Wow, this dude is tall!”. He was very tall and his presence was overwhelming but he seemed quite polite and unlike most Tanzanian’s I’d met, he seemed meek. Perhaps I had grown too used to the porters and guides on Kili. Their behavior was a lot like mine: loud, silly, and always looking for a laugh. Nicholas was the opposite: he was, in a word, professional! Ha!

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I did NOT dress like this

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“I’m afraid it’s your urine, Elaine. You tested positive for opium…White lotus, Yam-yam, Shanghai Sally.”

As we walked to the Land Rover, he looked at my bag and said, “This is it?” and I smiled and said, “Yep, I travel light and swift”. He just smiled. I think he must be used to tourists who pack as if they’re moving to the bush. I suppose people probably do take too much, believing in their head that they should somehow dress and play the part. So many of the people I saw on safari looked like they bought their clothes from the J. Peterman Catalog. I, on the other hand, just felt lucky to have clean clothes. As soon as I got back from Kilimanjaro, I ran to the front desk with a sack of clothes and asked if they could somehow wash them and get them back to me by morning. They did better than that! They got them back to me within two hours! Awesome.

As I hopped into the Land Rover another guide wished me luck and we joked around a bit about things I can’t remember. I’m telling you…Tanzanians love to act silly! Once we set off, Nicholas said that we were going to go meet Clamian, the owner. Apparently Clamian wanted to meet me so we were going to swing by and pick him up. Wow! Awesome! We drove across town and pulled into a little shopping mall. If I didn’t know better, I’d think we were in the US. The strip mall definitely looked like a place that catered to ex-pats. Next to it was a giant supermarket called Shop-Rite. Where am I? We pulled up to a coffee shop and there I had coffee with Clamian. We shared backgrounds and talked about the agenda for my safari. He then explained that he would accompany us to the Maasai village. Cool. Then he said, “I will introduce you to my mother.”. Wha? Then it clicked. This wasn’t an ordinary tourist village. This was HIS village! He was taking me to see HIS village and meet HIS family. AWESOME!!!!! After enjoying our local TZ coffee, we headed off. The road into Maasai land is a hot mess to say the least. This caused the three of us to get into a great conversation about corruption in both of our countries and how politicians are the same the world ’round. Clamian and Nicholas educated me on many things about Tanzanian society and I’ve not laughed that hard in a long time. Clamian is an awesome man and I admire him greatly!

Driving through Maasai land I saw many herds of cattle being led by typical Maasai men- beautiful, tall, dark men dressed in red and blueish-purple Maasai blankets.  I couldn’t take my eyes off them! My excitement to see Clamian’s village grew. We drove for at least an hour before finally turning off the road into the bush. The “road” was simply a vague track through the tall, brown grass. We pulled up to a brick building under construction and Clamian said that this was the school he was building for the village. He explained that currently the children have to walk many, many miles to go to school and it’s a great burden. Having a school in the village will be a great blessing for them. Just as I stepped out of the Land Rover, I spotted tiny children running up to see us. Clamian explained that they don’t often get visitors, especially white visitors so it’s a big deal when someone shows up. He also said that there had only been a few “mzungu” aka white visitors so it was still a rare thing for the children to see. Clamian laughed as he explained that the first time he brought mzungu, the children ran and hid, terrified of the white skin. They thought the white people were ghosts! Now they’re just fascinated!

The Maasai school Clamian is building

The Maasai school Clamian is building

As Clamian started to explain his designs for the school, I felt little hands on mine. I looked down to see some of the most precious faces I’d ever seen. The children held my hands as we walked and they smiled and giggled every time I looked at them. To be perfectly honest, it was hard for me to concentrate on what Clamian was saying because all I really wanted to do was play with the children. They were so sweet and friendly! Clamian continued to talk about the school while the children began their investigations on my skin. I could feel hands all over my arms and looked down to see that they were pushing my sleeves up to look at my arms. Clamian laughed and said that the children were curious to see if I was white all over. He said it was hard for them to understand that all of my skin was white (for those who don’t know me, I’m REALLY white. Very fair complexion) and wanted to make sure that I wasn’t made of plastic. I got the biggest kick out of that! I didn’t mind their investigations as I thought it was extremely cute. Besides, who am I to stand in the way of their scientific discoveries?

The Skin Inspectors. I fell in love with them immediately, especially the girl in the blue!

The Skin Inspectors. I fell in love with them immediately, especially the girl in the blue!

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After discussing the school plans it was suggested we continue on to the village as word had gotten out that mzungu had arrived. When we pulled up, I was greeted in the most amazing way. The Maasai all walked out towards me, singing, and shaking my hand. Then they lined up and began dancing. At first, I just took it all in, unsure of my role in all this. Nicholas finally whispered to me that I should dance. The dance is a jumping dance. I tried with all of my might to get the dance steps down but to no avail. The women near me even put some of their awesome necklaces on me. Maybe they thought it would help me….but it didn’t. They all just laughed. I discovered that black people ALL over the world laugh at white people when they dance. – haha.  Within a minute I was exhausted and out of breath. When it was finally over, Clamian told them that I had just climbed Mount Kilimanjaro to which they all “ooohed and ahhhed” but when I explained that trying to dance with them was harder than Kilimanjaro, they all broke out into laughter. After I regained my breath, we headed towards one of the huts.

IMG_1899Maasai huts are made out of cow dung and mud. They’re pretty amazing because it turns out that they are water-proof. Who knew cow poop could retard water? When we went in I was overwhelmed by smoke and by darkness. The inside of their huts are very dark (no windows) but Clamian told me that my eyes would adjust after a few minutes. He was right. After five minutes or so I realized there were all sorts of people sitting inside watching me. Yikes! In the middle of the floor was a fire. We all sat on tiny stools along the walls. Clamian explained that the women are the ones who build the houses and do most of the work around the village. The men tend to the cattle and goats and take them out to graze in the grasslands. Maasai are cattle people. They determine wealth by the number of cattle one owns. The more cattle a person owns, the richer he is. Their diet consists of cow milk, cow blood, and occasionally cow or goat meat. They don’t often kill them to eat since, after all, their valuable and killing one would reduce one’s wealth. Their entire society is very fascinating to me and I couldn’t quit looking at them as we spoke. They are such beautiful people. Physically, they are visually striking. Their skin is very dark, they’re all very tall and muscular, and their teeth are gorgeous and white. Their clothing and jewelry are beautiful. Clamian and I talked about the fact that Maasai stretch their ear lobes and I explained that it’s now a common practice among a certain population (hipsters) in my country. Speaking of my country, I asked Clamian if the villagers knew of my country or had an idea of where I come from. He laughed and asked them if they knew where I was from. One man said something in Ma and Clamian giggled then turned to me and said, “Yes, he says you come from the edge of the world”. Shocked and amused I asked, “And where is that?”. Once again, Clamian translated my question and the man pointed to the horizon and Clamian said, “Over there…just past the horizon.” I was speechless but amazed.  There was something really beautiful about the simplicity of their understanding of the world. I respected it.  As we sat and talked,

Beautiful Maasai

Beautiful Maasai

I was really impressed with how friendly and jovial the Maasai were. They look very fierce and it’s easy to understand why the men are called Maasai warriors. But once you speak to one, you realize they are very kind hearted, friendly, easy going. I really enjoyed meeting them and having the opportunity to become friends.

When it was time to go we walked outside and I had a conversation with some women, including Clamian’s mother and sister,  about their hair. Maasai women, like many other women in Tanzania, shave their heads. I told them that I liked it and thought it was very nice. I asked them what they thought of my hair (which is long) and they laughed and said (all this is being translated, FYI) that it was too messy and too hot.  I told them that I thought it was wonderful that they showed off their beautiful faces instead of hiding behind hair like me. They thought this was rather funny.

My lame attempt to dance with them. Nicholas joined in too!

My lame attempt to dance with them. Nicholas joined in too!

We slowly made our way over to the tribal elders and I met the chief of the tribe. Again, they were all so friendly and acted like I had done something wonderful by visiting. I thanked them over and over, shook their hands, and told them goodbye. As I left, I went over to give the jewelry back to the women but they insisted I keep a bracelet. It’s awesome and I wore it for the rest of my trip. It’s my most prized souvenir from Africa. I felt a little sad as we left but I told Clamian I’d like to come back and volunteer in the school. He said that was a wonderful idea. I really think I might do it next summer!

Beautiful Maasai

Beautiful Maasai

We drove to the next town and pulled over. Clamian explained that he would part ways with me and head back to Arusha via dala-dala. I was so impressed that he spent the day with me. We shook hands, said goodbye, then Nicholas and I headed on our way to Lake Manyara to begin our safari.

My friend, Clamian. A great man!

My friend, Clamian. A great man!

Not too long after we dropped Clamian off, we passed a small group of boys standing on the side of the road. They looked fierce! Nicholas stopped and asked if I wanted to meet them and possibly get my photo with them. Heck yes! He explained that in Maasai culture, when boys get circumcised, they must leave the village and dress in black for a period of time. Nicholas also said that the boys often try to earn money by allowing tourists to take their photo. He said he’d negotiate a price for me. This sounded intense and hardcore. I fully expected to get out and meet some crazy, mean warriors who wanted a bunch of money. Instead, I met four smiling young boys who seemed extremely happy that we stopped and were eager to tell me all about themselves. I fell in love for the millionth time in Tanzania! They were absolutely charming! They explained that they had just been circumcised and though I couldn’t understand what they were saying, they were obviously very proud. One boy showed me a gold ring he had been given during the ceremony. Nicholas negotiated a price of 4,000 shillings for photos. We took a million of them while the boys shouted, “mzungu, mzungu” to get my attention while they chatted my ear off about things. We all seemed equally fascinated by one another. I asked their ages and was shocked to learn they were 15 years old! WHAT?! They looked tiny compared to American boys their age. However, they were much

My new friends!

Future Maasai warriors

Future Maasai warriors

sweeter and far more friendlier than an American teenager, that’s for sure. When we were finished, I asked Nicholas if I could pay them more and he said, “of course”. Instead of the negotiated price of 4,000 shillings, I paid them 8,000 shillings. They were very happy and so was I. I will NEVER forget them. They were beautiful young men, inside and out!

Along the way we drove through a small but lively town called Mosquito River. Nicholas said it was a great place to explore and should I return, I should check it out. Noted! Just beyond the town was the entrance to Lake Manyara. We pulled in and stopped at a picnic area to enjoy our boxed lunches. It was nice to sit outside and enjoy our lunch.  To my right was a giant baobab tree which was one of the few I saw on my journey.

Tembo

Tembo

After lunch we started our safari and immediately saw some Blue Monkeys and a Green Mamba (yikes!). I could hear the loud trumpets of elephants and lemme tell you, those things are LOUD! Nicholas said it sounded like two males fussing at one another. Awesome! It wasn’t long before we finally spotted one! We rounded a corner and there, standing to our left, was a beautiful, male elephant! We killed the engine and watched him for awhile as he ate and played in the mud. After 15 minutes or so we decided it was time to move on. Just as we were pulling away, another vehicle pulled up and the elephant decided to move into the trees to hide.

Further along the road we saw lots of gazelle. To be perfectly honest, they didn’t excite me. I live in Virginia where giant herds of deer roam all over the place so seeing more deer-like animals just didn’t get me fired up. Sorry, gazelles. Nothing personal. What we did see that excited me were baboons! I love those lil guys. They’re so funny and so human. Baboons live in groups known as troops and we watched a very large troop fiddle around in the road and weeds. I got the biggest kick out of watching two “children” play with one another. One was very young…babyish, really. The other was slightly older and less interested in the younger one. Just like human children, they little one tried his best to play with the other one but the older one would just slap at it and make the little one scream. Typical!IMG_1965

We drove on even deeper into the park and spotted Vervet monkeys. They were cute but not nearly as interesting as baboons. Across the road I could see a small creek which separated the forest from a wide, open plain. On the bank I saw movement so I pointed to a giant lizard and asked Nicholas to tell me what it was. He complimented me on my good eye and said it was a Nile Monitor. Awesome! It was huge and I have to say, I wouldn’t want to tangle with that bad boy. He looked ferocious! Across the plain I could see herds of animals though it was difficult to distinguish what they were. The only exception were the zebra. Their black and white stripes stood out even from that distance.

Lake Manyara is famous for the tree climbing lions. I desperately wanted to spot some so as we drove I looked intently into the trees to see if I could spy any. I never did. But I did get to see a sleeping giraffe. He was sitting in a field by himself, just snoozing away. Eventually he stood up and it was fascinating to see it happen. I suspect it’s not an easy thing for a giraffe.

Elephant Family

Elephant Family

The best moment at Lake Manyara was when we pulled up to an area teaming with wildlife. In one small spot I saw three elephant bulls, an elephant cow and her baby as well as several giraffes. Just when I didn’t think the scene could get any better, I heard galloping and watched several zebra run through. I swear if one didn’t know better, they’d think they were at an zoo! Amazing!

By this point, the day was coming to a close. Nicholas said we still had a good 45 minutes drive to our lodge so he suggested we move on and start making our way out of the park. Sounded fine to me. Truth be told, I was exhausted and I felt content seeing as many animals as we did. Tomorrow we would head to Ngorongoro Crater and I knew that was where the action lied.

Baobab Tree

Baobab Tree

The drive to our lodge was interesting. We crossed the Great Rift Valley ridge and drove through some interesting towns. When we arrived at the lodge, Bougainvillea Safari Lodge, I felt excited to see my room. During check I joked around with the guy at reception, a nice Indian fellow, and we discussed my plans for tomorrow. Nicholas felt it would be best to leave around 6AM but that meant I’d have to take breakfast on the go. Hakuna Matata! The man at reception said they’d set tea out for me. That’s nice, I thought. He also asked if I had any food allergies and told me dinner begins at 7:30.  I said goodbye to Nicholas and headed towards my room. The grounds of the lodge were gorgeous and lush. The pool area looked awesome but frankly, it was just too chilly to go swimming. As I mentioned before, June in Tanzania isn’t that warm. It’s Winter, after all.

My safari lodge

My safari lodge

The rooms at the lodge are basically small cottages. They looked absolutely adorable on the website. When I walked in, I was immediately disappointed. First, I should say that I think I spoiled myself at the African Tulip. It was so wonderful and comfortable. Bougainvillea was slightly more…rustic. It had a fireplace, which was nice; however, the room smelled like a camp fire and everything just felt old. The bathroom was not the chic, modern style I became accustomed to at the Tulip. Instead, it was kind of old and crappy. Oh well…it definitely had a certain charm about it and I suppose it would have been downright romantic in a Hemingway, “Let’s go kill a lion” sort of way, with the mosquito netting and high post bed, had I been with someone. Instead, I was alone…and for the first time on my entire trip, I felt sort of sad that I was alone. On Kili I was never bored or lonely because I made friends. At the Tulip I was never bored or lonely because I had t.v. and could mill about town. But here…nothing to do and no one to talk to…oh and no t.v…..it hit me. I was alone. I was…lonely.

Mosquito net bed.

Mosquito net bed.

Feeling tired, I decided to take a nap since there was little to do until dinner time. I crawled into bed and shut the netting around me. I set the timer on my iphone and drifted off to sleep. When I woke up it was dark. I straightened out my hair and walked to the main building for dinner. I had read wonderful things about the chef here and was excited to taste the food. After being seated, I realized it  was a set menu and the food brought out by the wait staff.  The appetizer was delicious! It was some sort of chopped salad in an avocado. I cannot adequately describe it but it was fantastic. As I waited for more courses I sipped on my Coke and looked around the dining room. Everyone seemed so happy and the place was alive with conversation. Once again, I felt lonely. I never minded breakfast by myself but dinner alone is…well, it’s kind of depressing. Now and again I caught people looking at me. I guess they were trying to figure out my story. Why was this woman sitting by herself out in the middle of nowhere Africa. I wonder if they invented romantic stories of adventure? I wonder if they guessed the truth, which was, no one wanted to join me. As I sat eating my meal that night, I felt a sense of sadness for so many reasons. After eating, I grabbed a Coke to go then went to the gift shop and looked around. All the same trinkets I saw elsewhere. I shuffled back through the darkness to my room. With nothing to do, I played a round of Candy Crush before finally spraying the room with bug spray and crawling into bed. It was cold that night so I had put an extra blanket on my bed. Despite the rustic feel to the room, the bed was actually more comfortable than at the Tulip. Maybe it wasn’t so bad here after all! As I drifted to sleep, I could hear the wild dogs barking nearby and thought of that Toto song again- “The wild dogs cry out in the night
As they grow restless longing for some solitary company…”. Damn it, Toto. Your stupid song was starting to become downright meaningful to me.  *sigh*

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Kilimanjaro – Day 8

I woke up with the usual routine- Babu bringing tea and water for washing. But today felt different than all the other days. Today I felt really excited to walk through Mweka Gate victorious! I felt excited to finally take a shower or bath and I felt excited to finally have something other than camp food. Yet, I also felt incredibly sad. Today would be the last day I’d ever see the porters and guides. Worse still, today would mark the day when I’d part ways with “Dada Watatu”, “The Fellowship of the Diamox”….my dear, sweet, funny friends Adrienne and Arlette. It’s amazing how easy it is to become attached to people in such a short period of time. I think it’s similar to how bonded soldiers become during wars. Experiencing a difficult situation together welds people together.  Eight days ago we were strangers but we were all now great friends! On that mountain, they were my sisters! I didn’t like the thought of saying goodbye to them and I also didn’t like the idea of going on safari without them. How could it be as fun without them?

Earlier, around 4AM I woke up feeling incredibly well rested so I decided to work out how much we should tip everyone and wrote it all down. During breakfast I brought my notes and money and after we ate we started the task of figuring it all out. It was incredibly difficult to calculate since we had both TZ Shillings and US Dollars. After we finally figured it all out we started filling small envelopes for each porter and guide. Once we filled each envelope we took any leftover funds and put them in the envelopes of guys we felt went above and beyond. Obviously Babu got a TON of money. I don’t think we every recounted but I suspect by the time it was all said and done, we gave him as much or more than the guides. Doesn’t matter – he deserved it! The man was our guardian angel! Overall, I felt happy with the tips we gave but let me give some advice to future climbers: Take more than you think you want to tip because once you’re on the mountain you will realize those men earn every cent and when it comes time to tipping, you will realize no amount of money is enough. These men keep you alive on the mountain!

It took us a long time to sort out all the tips and we could hear the guys getting restless outside the tent. We even heard them warming up for the singing. When we were finally ready, we called to them and exited the tents. We grabbed our cameras and what happened next was amazing! Our entire crew lined up and started singing. The night before we heard other groups singing and going through their ceremonies. However, to see and hear your own guys dancing and singing for you is an experience I cannot describe. Luckily I have video!

Amazing, eh? Fido Dido explained why they sang each particular song. Here are the words to the first song Kilimanjaro, Kilimanjaro:

Kilimanjaro, Kilimanjaro,
Kilimanjaro, mlima mrefu sana.
Na Mawenzi, na Mawenzi,
Na Mawenzi, mlima mrefu sana.
Ewe nyoka, ewe nyoka,
Ewe nyoka, mbona waninzungukaa.
Wanizunguka Wanizunguka
Wanizunguka – Wataka Kunila Nyama
Kunila Nyama Kunila Nyama
Kunila Nyama – Mbona Wanizunguka

It means:

Kilimanjaro, Kilimanjaro,
Kilimanjaro, long mountain journey.
And Mawenzi, and Mawenzi,
And Mawenzi, long mountain journey.
As a snake, as a snake,
As a snake, it winds all around me.
It wants to eat my meat”

Fido Dido explained that the trail winds around like a snake and every day it’s so hard and difficult and they view it as if it was a snake trying to kill them. For the porters, who risk everything under such harsh conditions, I suppose the trail is very much like that. If you’ve climbed Kili (or will soon) you will know that this is a fair assessment. I think it’s beautiful and I love that the song mentions Mawenzi, that beautiful peak we saw in the dark as we trudged up Kibo. Great song!

The next song ; Jambo, bwana. That’s a popular song in Swahili. It means Hello, Mister. Here are the lyrics and translation:

Jambo, Jambo Bwana (Hello, Hello Sir)
Habari gani (How are you?)
Mzuri sana  (Very fine)
Wageni, mwakaribishwa (Foreigners, you’re welcome)
Kilimanjaro yetu (to Kilimanjaro)
Hakuna Matata (There is no problem)

I still sing this song sometimes when I’m driving or just walking around. I love it. I think I will teach it to my students when school starts. To me this is the ultimate feel-good song! Nothing makes my heart smile like it. It’s also a great way to teach yourself some Swahili.  As for the last song in the video, I don’t remember what they were singing. I’ll put my TZ friends on the case and hopefully figure it out another time.

Our Amazing Crew

Our Amazing Crew

After the singing and dancing it was time for us to present the tips and we decided we’d call them each up and shake their hands. Adrienne and I both said a few words and we both got choked up and teary eyed when we spoke. I don’t really remember what I said. I’m sure it was something along the lines of letting them know we couldn’t have done it without them. Actually, I do remember saying that the money we were giving them wasn’t enough to adequately express how we felt about them. Calling them up, one by one, was great! I think it’s so much better to do that than to do as some tour operates suggest and give it all to the head guide to dole out. I trusted Fido Dido and knew he would be fair but I just think it’s important, after 8 days, to shake the hands of each man responsible for getting you safely up and down the mountain. I wanted them all to know that we knew their names, knew their faces, and we appreciated them. After the tipping ceremony we took a group photo (thanks to some hikers we stopped as they passed by). I’d post it but I think the altitude was doing something to me because I look like a puffer fish in it. Horrible, horrible photo of me! haha

Shortly thereafter we took off down the muddy trail. Once again the guides allowed us to lead the way. It was a beautiful walk through lush rain forest. It was particularly foggy that morning too. Stupid me, I’d picked up rocks at Barafu Camp (for gifts and mementos) and I didn’t take them out of my backpack. Not only did the stupid things rattle for the next four hours but they were HEAVY! As we walked the three of us discussed a million different topics all the while doing our best to avoid the particularly muddy spots on the trail. Our pace was fast and we didn’t stop nearly as often now that we were no longer taking Diamox. Unfortunately, the one time we did stop, poor Adrienne found herself in a bad situation. Turns out she really did follow the caca trail and right into a pile of poop. Oh no! We did our best to assure her it would come off in the mud. I hope we were right! 🙂

Maybe it was because the rocks in my pack were heavy, maybe it was because I was just anxious to see the Mweka Gate but it seemed like the trail was REALLY long that day. It was, obviously, downhill the whole way and my knees were just so tired from the day before. I kept shifting my pack around to give my shoulders relief too. It didn’t help.

The muddy road to Mweka Gate

The muddy road to Mweka Gate

Eventually the trail turned into a road and as we headed down, a truck passed us going up the mountain. I think Chichi said it was heading to a research camp. I knew the road meant we were getting much closer to the gate. In fact, I remembered from Youtube videos that I watched about Kilimanjaro that the road goes straight to the gate. This section of the road/trail was incredibly muddy and I looked down at my pants and boots and they were splattered with lots of reddish-brown mud. Arlette and Adrienne had the same problem. I guess I should have worn my gaiters but the truth is, it wasn’t that bad and once it dried it all flaked right off. In the distance I heard noise – human voices and cars. I looked up and there it was: the end of the trail. Mweka Gate.

As we walked the last hundred feet or so of trail/road, I saw that the gate was nothing more than a few buildings. But the place was very busy! Porters were walking everywhere and as we turned to walk to the ranger’s station, I saw vendors selling various items. We walked over to sign in and sat down on a bench. A South African guy was signing in and we exchanged a few words with him. Then, for the very last time, we signed into the log book at the ranger’s station and with a pen stroke, signed out of Kilimanjaro National Park. We waited here for sometime. Chichi then told us that the road was too muddy for the truck to pick us up so if we didn’t mind, we’d walk down the road and have lunch near the truck. Part of me thought, “Ugh…walk more?” but honestly, I wasn’t ready for it all to end just yet so I didn’t mind. It turns out I’d be so happy we did.

We grabbed our packs and headed towards the road but stopped when I noticed some vendors selling t-shirts. We stopped and bought some shirts and other items. While we made our transactions we chatted up a few more South Africans. They told us they were from Cape Town. I told them I was jealous they didn’t have to cross an ocean to get to Kilimanjaro. They were nice guys and seemed to be delighted to have completed the journey.

Walking to Mweka through banana fields

Walking to Mweka through banana fields

Purchases secured we headed down the muddy road towards our truck. It was GORGEOUS! We walked past beautiful banana fields, so green and lush, as well as small houses (Americans would call them shacks or shanties) where people lived. On some of the porches we saw little babies and in some houses we saw meat hanging in the windows. It was so different from anything we knew as Americans yet to me, it was incredibly beautiful. During the beginning of our walk many men approached us attempting to sell souvenirs and trinkets. We kindly smiled, said no, and thanked them. Most were all very gracious about it and seemed humble. I always feel so badly when I don’t buy things from vendors in places like this. I am highly cognizant that the $2.00 trinket they are selling might be the difference between their children having full bellies that night or going to bed hungry. It’s also why, as I mentioned in another post, I don’t generally try to haggle a hard bargain. I’d rather spend a few extra bucks and have the enjoyment of knowing someone is going to feed their family than boast about the great deal I got on something that will end up in a drawer five years from now anyway. Speaking of vendors, one particular salesman was determined to make a deal. I can’t remember what he was selling but I remember his dreadlocks and his soft voice and more importantly, I remember the deal he tried to make. I smiled and gave my usual “hapana, asante sana bwana” (translated: no, thank you very much sir). But he said, “I make you a good deal dada. I give you good price and if you have no money, don’t worry dada…we work something out”. HAHAHAHA. Really? REALLY?  Did he really think I’d be willing to exchange sex for the banana leaf art he was trying to hock?  Oh that one made me giggle. Naturally, I smiled and said,” hapana, asante sana bwana”.  I always use my manners! 🙂

One of the "shanty" houses along the road

One of the “shanty” houses along the road

Jambo, chocolate?!

Jambo, chocolate?!

It wasn’t long before children came running out of the banana fields towards us. They waved and yelled, “Jambo!” followed by another word that I didn’t recognize. After the second or third time this happened I realized what they were saying and exclaimed, “Chocolate! They are yelling “jambo, chocolate”. They want chocolate! They’re shaking us down for candy” Hahahaha! This delighted me and made me laugh and smile. Kids, no matter their color, religion, nationality, or socio-economic background all want one thing: CANDY! I had read about this and packed two packs of Milky Ways in my luggage. Unfortunately, I ate them all when I was in the hotel. Sorry kids. However, Adrienne said she had some granola bars in her bag so we stopped while she pulled them out. Upon seeing this, the children swarmed Adrienne and were jumping around with their tiny hands held out. There were easily 8-10 children jockying for position around her but Adrienne was smart thinking and just turned to Chichi, threw him the bars and said, “Chichi- you handle this”. Chichi called the children over, spoke to them in Swahili, then gave the bars to the oldest kid. We assume that Chichi gave it to the oldest and it was up to him to divvy it out to the others. I hope he was an honest boy. Not only because I’d hate to see the younger, smaller ones shafted but also for his own sake as I think the other ones would rip his heart out if he didn’t share.

The Angelina Jolie of Kilimanjaro!

The Angelina Jolie of Kilimanjaro!

After seeing all of this, I started to laugh and told Adrienne she reminded me of Angelina Jolie (who is always going to some refugee camp or impoverished place)because she showed up, in her awesome sunglasses, with food and after causing a ruckus, she turned to her bodyguard/hired help (in this case, Chichi) and said, “You deal with it” and then walked away. HAHAHAHA For the next hour or so I kept calling her Angelina instead of Adrienne. Watching her getting swarmed by those cute kids was truly one of the funniest moments on the trip! A few moments later we started to laugh even more when Adrienne pointed out the childrens’ disappointment when they cracked into the bars thinking it was going to be delicious and candy like only to discover Angelina/Adrienne had given them the most tasteless, healthy things she could find from Whole Foods. Oh poor children! hahahaha

As we got closer to the village of Mweka we started to see more and more people, mostly school children walking home in their uniforms. Then we started to see a few buildings and finally, I spotted our Climb Kili van and our porters. I was confused because I wasn’t sure what we were supposed to do but we were directed towards a small building which is a restaurant and there we had the best meal of the trip! It was buffet style and the selection was pretty big. They also had a Coke, a Fanta, and a Sprite as well as Kilimanjaro Beer to choose from. Naturally, I chose the Coke. Adrienne and Arlette took the Fanta and the Sprite. Later Mugambo seemed perplexed that we didn’t choose the beer. Ha! Below is a video of our walk into Mweka village.

I wanted to bring this guy home.

I wanted to bring this guy home.

Before we ate, we asked about giving away gear. As you are probably aware, the porters make very little money and cannot afford to properly outfit themselves as they should. It’s not uncommon to see them wearing flip flops and/or have no coats. I came knowing I’d give away some gear. We were told many of the porters would be leaving soon so we needed to hurry and do it before they left. I asked Chichi to help me determine who could use the gear we were giving away. Before I even started a very portly woman wandered over, tapped me on the arm and held out her hand as if she wanted me to give her something. I offered her some of the snacks I had left. She shook her head no. She wanted gear. In English I said, “Sorry, I’m giving my gear to the men who helped me up and down the mountain.”  I know she didn’t understand me. Instead, she planted herself in the ground and stood there the whole time watching.

I ended up giving my gaiters to Emanuel who happened to be the newest porter. Chichi said he had no gear since this was only his 5th time up the mountain. I gave Babu Sistusi my bag liner. It broke my heart on those mornings when he told me he had been a little cold. I explained that the liner would keep him very warm. He seemed happy. I gave away my nice, $300 North Face coat that I wore

Junior, Me, Chichi (wearing the gear I gave them)

Junior, Me, Chichi (wearing the gear I gave them)

to the summit to Baba Edwadi. Chichi said he didn’t have a coat so I was very happy to give it to him and he was extremely appreciative of it. I also gave away my nalgenes, and other various items including my mittens. Then I pulled out my red Mountain Hardwear fleece jacket. This was the jacket that, when coming down from the summit, Chichi remarked that it was a “nice sweater”. I had told myself that I’d give it to him but then I wondered if he’d want it since it was a female jacket (not that it looked like a female jacket, mind you. Totally unisex). I pulled it out of my bag and said, “Chichi, do you know anyone who wants this?” and he answered, “Yeah…me.”  HaHa! It was the cutest thing in the world the way he said it and he quickly grabbed it and then helped me distribute other things. I was so happy that he took it because I had felt certain he wanted it!  I did one last scan in my bag for gear I knew I could give away and saw my beloved hiking hat. It’s nothing special. Just one of those hats that if you pin to the side you end up looking as if you’re an Australian. Haha. I love that hat but suddenly something came over me and I grabbed it and said, “Who wants a hat?”. Junior said, “me!” and I threw it to him. He immediately put it on. Arlette and Adrienne also gave away items but I can’t remember what they were. When we finished, we headed over to the restaurant to eat and as I looked behind me, my heart swelled. I saw all of the porters wearing the items we had given them. Baba Edwadi was wearing the North Face coat, Chichi was wearing the red jacket, and Junior was wearing the hat.  The money I spent on those items was repaid in the joy I felt.

Best Coke I ever had!

Best Coke I ever had!

We sat down and ate and enjoyed our drinks. Slowly our guides along with Babu and Mugambo trickled in, grabbed some food and sat down. Sadly they didn’t sit with us. I don’t know if this was out of courtesy, out of TZ custom, or if it’s just a rule of the tour operator. We were disappointed because we loved those guys and wanted to spend our last minutes with them. Still, it was a good time nonetheless. To our surprise they brought in entertainment! The tall man you see walking across the road in the video was the music man. He played guitar and sang for us while we ate and best of all, Junior jumped in and danced. That guy is awesome! I will never forget him. I wish I could have known him better. If you remember back to my earlier posts, he was the guy who beat two rocks together to fix my tent and called it “African tools”. I’m telling you, Tanzanians have the best sense of humor and such a joie de vivre! The festivities had drawn a small crowd from the village. The begging woman was standing there in the door way along with a few other people. The one that I noticed was a young man, maybe 20 years old or so who had Down’s Syndrome. He was smiling and drinking a Coke.

Our certificates and the Music Man

Our certificates and the Music Man

After the song and dancing ended, Fido Dido presented us with our certificates. If you reach the summit of Uhuru, Kilimanjaro National Park issues a certificate. Pretty awesome! We took pictures, received our certificates and listened to our friends and even the strangers in the doorway clap and cheer for us. Then it was time for us to leave. We gathered our things and as I walked out of the restaurant, I noticed the young man with Down’s was shaking everyone’s hand. I pulled out 5,000 Shillings and when I shook his hand, I put the note in his hand. He looked at the money and gave me the best smile I’d seen in months! Money well spent. Then I walked over to the vehicles,  climbed into the van along with a few of our crew (Mugambo, Babu, Chichi, etc.) and started the long drive back to Arusha. The drive was beautiful and I am glad it was long because we got to see a lot of different scenery. We passed lots of coffee plantations and farms. We also passed some really huge houses behind gates and we joked with Chichi and Fido Dido that those were their Summer homes.

Fido Dido giving me my certificate.

Fido Dido giving me my certificate.

The miles passed and we chatted about many different things and suddenly, somewhere between Moshi and Arusha, Arlette said, “Ya know, I’d probably come back and do the Machame route in a few years.” I looked over at her and said, “I think I would too.” And there it was…the thing that I suspect happens to many climbers of Kilimanjaro. The morning after summit climbers swear they’d  never do it again due to the brutality. We ourselves said we were glad we did it but we’d never climb Kilimanjaro again; yet,  as the van took us farther and farther away, we longed to be with her again. That’s the power of Mount Kilimanjaro. She stays with you forever. She haunts you and makes you yearn to come back for more.

Saying goodbye at the Impala

Saying goodbye at the Impala

When we got closer to Arusha I started to recognize where we were and when we made the left turn off the main road, my heart sank a little. In less than a mile I knew we’d turn into the Impala Hotel and I’d have to say goodbye to my friends. I didn’t want that. What I really wanted was to drop them off, go take showers then meet up again and go on safari together. Sadly, that was not how the story was written. We pulled into the Impala and we all jumped out. I walked into the open air lobby with Adrienne and Arlette so that we could take photos. The woman behind the counter glared at us because of the mud trail we left across the lobby. What could we do though? i also noticed some young men looking at us in horror. I don’t know if they were future climbers or in Arusha for something else but I could tell that our, muddy, worn out appearance unsettled them. I wanted to explain to them that we were Kili climbers, not vagrants but I didn’t. Instead, Arlette, Adrienne and I took some photos of our muddy pants and boots and then a group shot. We hugged, promised to email and send photos, to stay in touch, and said our last goodbyes. I walked back to the van, hopped in, and we drove around the corner to the African Tulip where I stayed. I got out and shook hands with Mugambo and gave Chichi and Babu a hug goodbye. I hated to say goodbye to them because unlike Adrienne and Arlette, who I knew I’d stay in touch with, I knew I’d never see them again. That broke my heart. 😦

Fido Dido walked me inside, made sure I checked in okay and then we hugged and said goodbye. I watched my fearless guide, my protector on the mountain, my Kilimanjaro “mume” walk out the door and with that, my Kilimanjaro adventure ended.

Not a day goes by that I don’t think about Kilimanjaro. To say that Kilimanjaro is a life changing experience is an understatement. Kilimanjaro is an analogy for life. Five years ago I focused on a dream to climb the highest mountain in Africa and here I am five years on, writing a blog about my experiences on the greatest adventure of my life: reaching the rooftop of Africa. But as any climber will tell you, it’s not about the summit. It’s about the time you spend on the mountain that changes you. There was no life altering epiphany when I stood at Uhuru. But every day, with every step over every rock I learned new things about myself. I learned that I am stronger than I ever imagined,  I have more faith than I ever believed, and I discovered that strangers often turn out to be the greatest friends you will ever have.  You see, on Kilimanjaro, just as it is in life, it’s not the accomplishments that matter. It’s the people who were by your side along the way.  For the rest of my life I will carry with me, in my heart, the names of those who accompanied me along the way. I will never forget them and I hope they never forget me. Asante Sana.

The greatest adventure of my life.

The greatest adventure of my life.

*Next posts will be about my safari adventure*

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Kilimanjaro – Day 7

People talk about getting to the top of Kilimanjaro; yet, they fail to mention getting down. The hike from Barafu to Mweka Hut Camp was difficult. After sleeping for an hour, we were forced told to move out. Our guides explained that we had another four hours of hiking to do before we got to the next camp. Four hours doesn’t sound so bad on a normal day but this day didn’t start off normal. You see, we just finished the monumental feat of summiting Kilimanjaro on three hours of sleep. Now, we were about to take off hiking again, for four hours, on a grand total of four hours of sleep in 30 hours. 

As we slung our packs over our shoulder, we could see the path stretch out before it. It seemed to gradually slope downhill. We liked that idea! Unfortunately, looks can be deceiving. Initially it wasn’t so bad…the path that is. However, the wind was blowing pretty hard and it felt cold. I had to pull my buff up over my head. I’m sure I looked like an idiot but it’s hard to be a fashion plate when you’re 15,000 feet in the sky and haven’t taken a bath in a week.

The Death Cart

The Death Cart

As we walked down the rocky path we came across the infamous stretchers that they use to take people down when they’re injured or so sick they need evacuation. They’re pretty scary looking, frankly. Metal carts with one bicycle wheel on it. I can’t imagine how terrifying it must be to feel sick or in pain only to get tossed on that thing and sent hurling down the mountain. Thank God I didn’t find out first hand!

We hiked and stumbled over rocks for HOURS and for a brief moment I remember feeling excited to see a camp in the distance. Unfortunately for us, this was NOT our camp. It was Millennium Camp and it sucked MAJAH (inside joke for Arlette who joked that Victoria Beckham says everything is major but to American ears it sounds like majah. This joke started because I mentioned that to Brits, everything is “massive” whereas I’d just call it…big. I digress…). Walking past a perfectly good camp when all you want to do is sleep seems insane but we continued on. 

The trail changed as soon as we walked by the camp. It went from being a rocky, but relatively well worn path to a dry creek bed that went straight down. It was awful! There were rocks everywhere and deep gullies that we had to navigate around as we picked our way down the trail. However, we discussed how thankful we were that it wasn’t raining. During rain the trail had to turn into a what we call in SWVA as a “gully washer”. We imagined how dangerous it would be to walk in ankle or shin high water, unable to see the rocks. One bad slip and one would easily break their leg. Thankfully, the weather the entire week had been dry and relatively sunny. 

Rocky trail

Rocky trail

Oddly, about half way down I realized that our guides were not in front on this hike. Instead, they walked behind us. I’m not sure why. I theorized that perhaps they wanted to watch us to see how we were doing after the grueling summit bid. But who knows? Maybe they just wanted to look at our butts! After all the “stairmastering” we’d done on the mountain, they had to look pretty good, right Arlette and Adrienne? hahaha

We talked about many different things along the trail that day but I can’t really recall what the topics were. I do remember the ravens showing back up and Adrienne remarking that she was wrong. They were not saying, “Never summit!”. Nope, they were saying “Never down”. Ha! That sounded right! I felt like this day would never end. We kept walking and walking. The lower in elevation we went, the less sunlight we had. At first the fog just rolled into the canyons but it slowly crept in more and more. As the day light started to fade, I wondered how much longer we’d have until we reached camp. Our porters must have wondered where we were because as I was filming with my little camera, I saw a guy in a santa hat coming up the trail. It was Piusi! He, along with a few other younger porters, showed up and took our packs from us. I laughed and said that it’s pretty bad when your porters send out a search party. Still, I was happy to see them. Not only was it nice to hear them speaking happily in Swahili with the guides, I knew that we were not far from camp. 

As we started up a small hill Fido Dido said, “We have 30 more minutes before we reach camp” but I called him out on it because through the trees I could see tents. We made it to Mweka Hut Camp! The camp was HUGE but it was hard to see all the tents because we were tucked away in the rain forest. When we reached our tents, I was so excited to rest! Dinner tonight was special! Mugambo prepared traditional Tanzanian food for us. I was excited to try Ugali and the stew he prepared. During dinner we told Fido Dido we’d prefer to have the tipping ceremony in the morning because we needed time to count the money and we were just too tired to think that night. All I wanted was sleep. 

We were at approximately 10,500 feet and it was so much warmer in camp than on any other night since Day 2. I knew I’d sleep well as a result. When I crawled into the tent I wrote a few things in my journal but was so exhausted none of it was profound. I did remark that at this point in the journey, I was eager to get it over with. I didn’t want to leave the friends I had made but I was desperate for a shower and a cold Coke! 

Oddly, as I drifted off to sleep, I didn’t think about the monumental feat of getting to the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro. Instead, I thought only of the Coke. It’s the little things in life.

**This isn’t the end. Stay tuned for Day 8.**

(and no TD, I didn’t get eaten by a lion…I’ve just been lazy haha)

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Kilimanjaro – Summit Night

I want to begin by saying that if you’ve read anything about summit night, then you think you know what to expect, right? Wrong. You have no idea and nothing I write will truly prepare you for the brutality that is summit night. As you read this, if you think something sounds terrible or painful, go ahead and multiply it by 10. That still won’t prepare you though. Nothing will. With that said, here is summit night:

For the first time since our acclimatization hike at Moir Camp, Fido Dido led the way. I knew this was serious business when he went to the front. For most of the climb Chichi had been leading us and did a wonderful job; however, he was the assistant guide. Seeing Fido Dido, our amazing head guide, leading the way up Kili sent a powerful message to me. Our line order was Fido Dido, me, Arlette, Adrienne, and Babu. Chichi held up the rear but often dropped out of sight. In camp Fido Dido said that they would only carry one pack so that if we needed our packs carried, they could do so. When we left camp, Babu and Chichi had Arlette’s and Adrienne’s packs. Initially, I carried mine and not necessarily out of choice but because no one asked if I wanted them to carry it!

Slowly we left our campsite and moved silently through Barafu past the ranger’s hut and other campsites. Barafu was defrosting and coming alive with activity. Other climbers were moving about in their tents and occasionally we’d hear the nervous chatter of people gearing up, preparing to head out. The noise and banter of other groups contrasted with our own silence. As bizarre as it sounds, I felt like the Angel of Death during Passover as we stalked silently past the tents all aglow from headlamps inside. Who were the chosen ones? Did this tent contain the select few who would experience glory at the summit or did it contain those who would feel the agony of defeat, forced to turn back to camp or worse still, a hospital in Arusha or Nairobi?

This is how I felt in Barafu

By the time we reached the outskirts of camp, my shoulders were aching from the weight of all the water I packed. I had a camel back and three nalgenes full of water. I felt pathetic and weak but I had no choice- I had to ditch the pack. I humbly called out to Fido Dido and told him my pack was heavy and asked if he would carry it. I think he was surprised but he said nothing. Instead, he just grabbed the pack, threw it over his, then pushed on. I paused for a few moments, staring at him in awe through the darkness. How could someone be so strong in conditions like this? My shoulders instantly felt better with the weight of the pack gone; however, the weight of my fear continued to be a burden, weighing me down even more.

At the edge of Barafu Camp lies the steep, winding trail to the summit. Earlier Chichi told me that in the beginning there are switchbacks then it flattens out for a short distance before climbing again. Staring into the darkness and seeing nothing but the tiny lights of climbers snaking their way up the slope, I clung to the promise of flat land. I also began to pray. My prayer was simple but constant throughout the night: I’d push myself to my physical limits to make it to the top. I wouldn’t give up. But if God’s will was different from my own, I’d accept it. I decided that I’d rejoice in each step and be thankful to God for my end point, regardless of where that was on the mountain. In my darkest, coldest moment, I accepted it was never about what I wanted. It was about what God allowed. It was a prayer I prayed and a point I pondered for 9 continuous hours.

Is that a star or a headlamp?

Initially, I was surprised by our pace. After 6 days of walking “pole-pole” it suddenly felt as if we were power stepping up and over rocks. Fido Dido’s long legs stretched easily over obstacles but my depleted muscles struggled to do the same. My eyes constantly scanned up and ahead in an effort to see something…anything. But all I saw was inky, darkness dotted with headlamps. All the books and guides I read said I’d see a highway of lights as other climbers made their way up; however, we left so much earlier than the others that initially, we only saw a handful. I watched them, hoping to see them disappear around a corner or other landmark but it never happened. The lights continued to move higher and higher into the dark sky. So high, in fact, that later in the night I had a hard time discerning between headlamps and stars.

The British are Coming!

We marched on and on, rarely speaking a word. It wasn’t long before a South African man and his guide passed us. They moved at breakneck speed. Watching the Afrikaner move so quickly and seemingly unaffected by altitude made me feel weak. Every time a self-defeating thought popped into my head, I prayed. Eventually the Afrikaner pushed so deep into the darkness that he disappeared from sight. But it wasn’t long before I heard chanting and cheering below us. The British were coming!

Foreigners always talk about how loud Americans are but I have to tell you that those people have never been to Kilimanjaro. The Brits on Kili were LOUD! You hear them long before you see them. If they’re not chanting and cheering like their at the World Cup, they’re laughing and giggling and asking Babu where the toilet is (ha! I just referenced an older post. How clever of me!). Good for them! I am happy that they felt so jovial on such a night but frankly, it was annoying! Haha. I say that in the nicest of ways, truly. It’s just that, when you’re feeling like a dead man walking, the last thing you want to hear is a Cockney chirping on about One Direction (just kidding…I don’t remember what they were talking about). Oh one other thing…the Coughing Girl was there barking like a seal with that horrible cough. I felt sorry for her but after the inhaler diss on the way into Barafu, I don’t think Adrienne offered her anything this time.

We hiked for the longest time before we ever took a break. Even then, the only reason was to allow the Redcoats to pass. As they passed I smelled something really good, which seemed odd in this sensory deprived environment. Resting on a rock, we quickly seized the chance to drink water and gobble down a snack. The water was freezing and painful to drink. Worse still, wearing big,cumbersome down mittens made it impossible to actually do anything for myself. This meant that one of the guides had to help me open my Chomps and get them in my mouth. Sure, I could have taken the mittens off but that would have been more difficult than wrangling cats. Remember, nothing is easy at high altitude. All those little things you do with ease at sea level feel like you’re threading a camel through a needle at altitude.

Our break lasted two minutes at the most and we were off again. I looked at my watch and was shocked to see it was already 1AM. Knowing that I had already lasted 2 hours gave me a small boost as we continued on. Somehow we caught up with the Brits as they had decided to rest. Fido Dido chatted up their guide and the guide laughed when he saw us. He referred to us as Fido Dido’s three wives. He joked that Fido Dido was his worst enemy and he was jealous that he had so many wives. I wanted to laugh too but I couldn’t afford to waste the oxygen so I think I mustered a close-lipped smile. I might be mistaken but I think he was the same dude who called me the Queen of Kilimanjaro. As we walked by, I caught another whiff of the “good smell”. It was definitely cologne but for the life of me, I couldn’t figure out why anyone would bother to wear cologne on this night. Heck, I’d stopped bothering with deoderant a few days ago. What was the point? Also, it was around this time of night when I noticed several people being escorted down the mountain by their guides. These were the poor souls who were, apparently, unable to continue up the mountain. Their Kilimanjaro journey ended, not at the summit, but along some unknown dark spot along the trail. Watching it pained me. Did turning back destroy their souls as much as I had imagined it would mine? While we’re discussing poor souls, it’s worth mentioning that we also saw Mr. South Africa sitting on a rock and looking rough. He was obviously hurting and was being consoled and comforted by his guide. It surprised me because he started off with such gusto! I suspect his eager beaver pace did him in. I don’t know if he turned back or made it because I don’t remember seeing him again after that. Poor guy.

Imagine this but with hiking clothes

I don’t know how much time had passed but sometime after passing the Brits, I started to feel sleepy. Very sleepy. This section of the climb is a blur for me because I slept through most of it. Seriously. I remember feeling so tired and thinking, “I will just close my eyes a little and get some rest.”. One problem though – I was walking! In the dark! On a dangerous mountain! But I did it anyway! My eyes were 90% closed. I guess my brain went into survival mode and used the remaining 10% to focus on Fido Dido’s boots. Like a mindless machine, my body followed his. After some time, I’d “wake up” and think to myself, “Oh my goodness! I was sleeping! I’ve got to wake up!”. But in just a few seconds, the cycle repeated itself. This continued for hours. I’m not exaggerating in the slightest! Adrienne also said she was doing the same thing. In fact, one time we stopped and Adrienne and I actually fell asleep against one another while standing up. Another time we stopped to let people pass and I remember leaning forward to rest my head on Fido Dido’s pack because the idea of catching just 13 seconds of sleep seemed like a good plan. I became really worried and wondered if this desire to sleep was a result of lack of oyxgen. I asked Fido Dido several times if that was the case but he assured me that we were sleepy simply because we were sleep deprived. After all, he pointed out, we only slept for three hours. Regardless of the reason, we felt like walking dead and we moved like them too. My movements felt labored and slow. Breathing was an effort. Whenever we stopped for water, it was impossible to drink and breathe at the same time. Taking just a sip or two of water left me feeling as if I was drowning.

Speaking of water, only a few hours into the climb, it froze. I had read all about this and listened carefully during our briefing as it was explained that our camel backs would freeze first. We were instructed to blow back into the tube after each drink. This would slow down the freezing process and help prevent the tube from freezing up. I did that but by 2 or 3AM it was so cold that it didn’t matter. My camel back froze. That meant I now had to drink from my nalgenes which was far less convenient to do as they were all buried in my pack which, by this time, Babu and Chichi carried. For awhile only the camel back was frozen by eventually, even the nalgenes started to freeze. I clearly remember feeling delirious from fatigue and asking Chichi, in an almost child-like manner, if I could have some of my water. Bless his heart, throughout the night whenever I needed water he’d pull it out of my pack, unscrew the lid, and hold it up to my mouth for me to drink. He took such good care of me that night! In fact, I remember on several occasions, while taking a short break to eat a snack (which was usually just one partially frozen Chomp) or take a drink Chichi grabbed my shoulders and massaged them briskly and moved my head around. I knew he was trying to keep the blood flowing and keep me awake. Because drinking was such a difficult task which required us to ask for a break (which was dangerous due to the freezing temperatures), seek assistance with getting our water, then deciding which we preferred more: oxygen or water – because you couldn’t have both at the same time. It was just as well because every time I took a drink of water, I got a headache. After a few minutes the headache was disappear but as the night wore on, I started to shy away from drinking in an effort to stave the headaches.

Realizing, I suspect, that our focus was fading, Fido Dido and other guides from other groups started to sing songs. I had read that the guides would do this on summit night to keep spirits up but I always assumed they would be boisterous African songs. Nope. The first song I heard Fido Dido sing was “Fix You” by Coldplay. He sang it very softly. So softly that I wondered if he was singing it for our benefit for his. Then he sang “Hero” by Enrique Iglesias. Where was he going with this? I was nervous he was going to crank out “Highway to the Danger Zone” by Kenny Loggins but thankfully, that never happened. Whew! *waves of relief wash over me*

During the briefing Fido Dido and Chichi said that sometime around 3AM or 4AM it would get extremely cold. I wondered how they knew this. Did they have some super secret weather station stashed away in their tent? When we started out that night I thought, “Well it’s already cold so their estimate was off.” Silly mzungu! What did I know? Sure enough, all of a sudden it became EXTREMELY cold and my first thought was ,”Wow…we must be walking next to a glacier. Why is it so stinkin’ cold?”. I looked down at my watch and guess what? It was 4AM. What the?!?! How did they know that? Three things passed through my mind: 1.)”They are better than the weather guys at home” 2.) “Holy polar ice caps, it’s freezing!” and 3.) “It’s 4AM? It’s 4AM! Two more hours and the sun comes up! Oh thank you God!”. I remember thanking God profusely to have made it this far!

Much to my secret delight, the Brits were running out of steam! I bore no ill will toward them (I’m really an Anglophile) but nothing rallys the troops like a common enemy and somehow I think it made us all feel better to know we were not the slowest, most pathetic group on the mountain. Our slow and steady pace was working to our advantage. We passed the Brits again but this time their chirpy conversations and jolly songs were silenced. Instead, we saw heads hung low, people gasping for breath, and hands held to heads as if they were in agony. But the good smell was there! I finally said, “Something smells good!” and a young British guy turned to me and said, “What? Did you say something smells good? That’s me!” My friend thought it would be funny to spray my buff with aftershave and now I have to breath it the rest of the night.” I laughed and wondered, once again, why anyone would have a bottle of Axe (or similar) with them. Guess someone thought they might get lucky at 15,000 feet! Does that constitute qualifying for the “Mile High Club” if you’re still touching earth?

Before leaving camp I put on five layers and stuffed my pockets with hand warmers. I was also wearing a balaclava, a buff, and two stocking caps. Despite all of this, I was freezing. As the incline increased, we were no longer moving at a rate fast enough to generate enough body heat. The cold penetrated my skin and soaked into my bones. Slowing us down even more was the scree. With every step we took forward it felt as if we slid back down an equal distance. How much longer could this go on? But, just as that thought passed through my mind, I looked to my right and saw something wonderful – a hint of light on the horizon. The sun! It was starting to rise. I looked at my watch and it was around 6AM. The sky was still dark and we could only see the faintest of lines but it was coming and it was all I needed to know! The sun meant so many things! First of all, it meant heat! Second, it meant we would be able to see more than the boots and butt of the person in front of you. Third, the sunrise meant we were almost to the top! Hallelujah!

We continued our arduous push through the scree and the increasingly steep slope and found ourselves walking side by side the Brits. As more and more light started to filter down from the sky I saw snow for the first time that night. My excitement grew! Once again I looked over to my right and saw orange taking over the line on the horizon and also saw the beautiful sillouette of Mawenzi, the other peak of Kilimanjaro (the summit is on the peak of Kibo. Kibo and Mawenzi make up Mount Kilimanjaro). The chatter in both groups seemed to pick up, bouyed by the knowledge that soon we would see the sun and then, feeling a bright glow kiss my face, I looked over and saw it happen (click on the link…this whole build up of the sun will be much funnier. Also, while you’re at it, keep watching until the 40 second mark. You will see why. I swear it all happened JUST like this – hahahaha)

– the sun emerged from the horizon! It was glorious…more glorious than any sunrise I’ve ever witnessed. I wanted to cry! A British guy, upon seeing it unfold, actually sang the lil intro of the Lion King when the sun rises (sorry, I wish I could take credit for that but like half of all my comedy, I stole it from the British).

The sun was up! I can’t even put into words how it feels to witness the sun rising from the rooftop of Africa. Honestly, I really can’t I just spent 20 minutes staring at my computer screen, pondering the best way to explain what that moment was like. It cannot be done. You must witness it for yourself. I cannot wait to reminisce with those who have and can’t help but feel brokehearted for those who never will.

Despite the sun being up, the challenge, this journey to reach the top was far from over. With the blazing sun illuminating our path, I looked up and saw nothing but snow, rock, and more ground to cover. Once again I wondered, “Will we ever get there? Does it ever end?”. We pushed and pushed ourselves through the scree, digging our poles in deep in an effort to not lose ground. I was exhausted but this late in the game, I refused to lose heart or give up. No way, not now. Then suddenly, I looked up to the ridge above and saw a sign that said:

“Congra” and just below that I saw “Stel”

It was the Stella Point sign! As soon as my brain registered what I saw, I burst into tears and turned to Arlette and exclaimed, “Stella Point! There’s Stella Point! We’re going to make it!”. I continued to cry for another few seconds before discovering that it’s difficult to cry and breathe at the same time at 19,000 feet. For those who aren’t familiar, there are several “points” near the summit. One is Gillman’s Point which climbers on the Marangu and Rongai routes pass. Stella Point is the location on the trail when climbers on the Lemosho and Machame route finally reach the crater rim (Kili is an old volcano). It’s not the summit but it’s darn close (45 minutes or so). From our angle below, all I could see of the “Congratulations. You are now at Stella Point” were parts of words. Still, it was enough to know where we were and what we had accomplished. When we finally pulled ourselves to the crater rim and walked towards the Stella Point sign, I felt so much emotion. I tear up right now just thinking about it! People we standing around the sign so we walked past it to some rocks and sat down. Adrienne was freezing and in desperate need of heat so she pulled out some hand warmers and attempted to warm up. Arlette ate a snack and I sat there, in a daze, but anxious to continue on to the summit. As we rested, I felt a slight headache come on after drinking water. It wasn’t bad enough to worry about Advil though. Instead, I sat there, taking it all in. From where we sat we could see down to the crater. It was gorgeous and filled with black, volcanic rock. After sitting for just a few minutes, I started to get very cold and knew I needed to move or I was going to become hypothermic. I told the others I was going to start heading towards Uhuru, the actual summit. I could see it in the distance and was eager to get there.

Arlette and I, along with Chichi and Fido Dido, took off towards the summit. Adrienne wasn’t far behind with Babu by her side. My oxygen deprived muscles didn’t want to move and I felt as if I was making very little progress up the crater rim. I looked back and didn’t see Arlette with me anymore but I was too delirious to really question it. I just kept moving slowly towards the sign. To my right was the crater and to my left were the famous snows of Kilimanjaro – the glaciers! They were magnificent! As I walked along, I passed so many zombie-like people who were obviously very sick from AMS. Some were sitting with their heads hung between their legs and being comforted by companions. Others were simply walking slowly but with a look of agony stapled on their face. As for me,my legs felt as if I was walking through the Molasses Tar Pits in Candyland.  I must have started to fall apart because I remember Chichi taking the pole out of my left hand and holding my hand and arm as I walked. I thought that was so sweet of him! Chichi was Mr. Cool throughout our climb and though he was knowledgable and excellent at his job, it wasn’t something I expected from him. But there he was, our Captain Boolah, literally guiding me towards the summit. My hero!

When we reached a really narrow, icy section of the trail, he turned me loose and I resumed my “Walker” ala Walking Dead pace. As I got closer, people on their way down passed me and said, “Congratulations!”. That’s when it started to sink in….”Oh my god, I’m almost there. I’ve done it. I’ve climbed Kilimanjaro!”

I wish I could say that reaching Uhuru, the summit of mighty Mount Kilimanjaro, was an emotionally charged moment but to be totally honest, it was a little anti-climatic. Many reasons for that I think. First of all, Arlette and Adrienne hadn’t arrived yet so it was just me, Chichi, and a dozen or so people I didn’t know. Second, it would be hard to match the emotion I felt when I saw Stella Point. Stella Point snuck up on us. We had no idea we were almost there and the moments leading up to Stella were painful and full of doubt. On the other hand, after reaching Stella Point I had zero doubt that I’d reach Uhuru. Third, as soon as Chichi started to take my picture at the summit sign, my head exploded!

Victory!

Victory!

Under ideal conditions, I would have hammed it up in front of the sign but I didn’t care when the headache started. It was all I could do to tie the donor flag I made (for the charities I raised money for) to the sign and sit down. I sat for a few minutes but the pain was starting to overwhelm me. It felt as if someone was driving nails through the back of my skull and seemed to be intensifying to the point I was no longer able to appreciate this monumental moment in my life or notice who was around me. In fact, I failed to notice that Arlette had arrived. When I started to feel nauseous, I knew things were getting serious. I began to feel nervous that I was experiencing the beginning of HACE. After having my photo taken, I quickly took my “donor flag” and tied it to the sign. Then I turned to Chichi and told him my head hurt. I remember he said in his typical low key tone, “Your head hurts? How bad does it hurt?”  but his facial expression showed deep concern. I explained that it was hurting really badly and I can’t remember now how Fido Dido got into the mix, but I remember telling him that it hurt badly and he said I should go down. I asked if I could wait long enough to get a group shot with Arlette and Adrienne but he said no and that I needed to go down immediately. This freaked me out, honestly. The fact that he was so concerned that I didn’t have a few minutes to spare for a group shot made me wonder if I really did have the beginning of cerebral edema. I saw the look of disappointment on Arlette’s face and I felt so torn. I wanted to stay and take the photos we all talked about…but I didn’t want my head to explode. So I followed orders and headed down the path towards Stella Point. A few minutes later, I saw Adrienne and told her what was going on. She wished me well, gave me a hug and walked on. Babu, bless his heart…he gave me a hug too! Have I mentioned how much I love him?

Glaciers

Glaciers

As I started down more and more people were heading up the trail. I paid little attention to any of them because a wave of nausea swept over me and for the very first time on Kilimanjaro, I wondered if I was about to lose my lunch. Actually, in this case I would have been losing the three Chomps I ate on the way up. Remembering that I had stuffed a cracker into my pocket at dinner for an occasion such as this, I pulled it out only to discover it was smashed and broken to bits. No matter! I stuffed some crumbs into my mouth in an effort to calm my stomach. It didn’t help.

On my way down the path to Stella Point, I exchanged congratulations with a few people. Some seemed fine, others looked awful and near death. Oh, remember all those Brits who power walked their way past us day after day? Most of them were struggling to move beyond Stella Point. On one hand I felt badly for them because it would stink to make it that far but not get to Uhuru…but another part of me secretly delighted in their struggles after blowing by us like we were patients from a geriatric unit.

By the time I got to Stella Point, I felt slightly better. The nausea was gone but my headache remained. Chichi and I made the turn and started down the steep, scree filled path. In the brightness of day, I could see the ridiculously steep, rocky trail that we covered the night before and cringed. We have to go down that?!, I wondered. My knees started to ache at the thought.

They say that you push for the summit at night because if you saw what you had to climb during the day, you’d never do it. They may have a point! Chichi took the lead and we sort of slid our way down through the scree. It felt really dangerous to me. I’ve heard of people “skiiing” their way down to the bottom on the scree but I just didn’t have the confidence for that. Instead, I turned my foot sideways to ensure I didn’t hyper extend my knee and slid in small bursts. This seemed to last forever. Occasionally Chichi and I took water and rest breaks. I don’t know about his but this was tough on my knees. During one of the breaks, I realized I felt infinitely better than I did at Uhuru and this caused mixed emotions. On one hand, I was really happy to feel better – the thought of possible cerebral edema is a scary one. Yet, on the other hand, I felt sad that I had to leave my friends at the top and not get the group photo that we had talked about. This is my one regret out of the whole adventure. Later, when Arlette and Adrienne returned to camp and shared their stories from the top, I felt waves of sadness overcome me and kicked myself for not being strong enough to stay up there just awhile longer. But I kept telling myself that I had accomplished what I came to do and that was summit Kilimanjaro. I was there. I stood next to the sign, I saw the crater, and I saw the giant glaciers – the snows of Kilimanjaro. But you see, once you’re on the mountain, Kilimanjaro becomes so much more than reaching the summit. It’s the sort of thing that I cannot put into words and only those who’ve been can truly understand and appreciate what I mean by that.

After Chichi and I hydrated and snacked, we picked up again and started down the trail once more. We said very little but did talk a bit about our families and I asked him about porter life. Once I felt tip top, I offered to carry my pack but refused and sweetly said, “Maybe later”. I owe so much to him. I couldn’t have made it to the top without him and I doubt I would have made it back down without him either. I guess for him it’s just another day at work and I am sure he will forget about me if he hasn’t already. But I will never forget Chichi…Captain Boola!

As I scanned the horizon to see where we had to go, I noticed a downhill section of the trail leading up to summit. What?! Did we go downhill last night? I don’t remember that. I asked Chichi if what I was seeing was true and he confirmed it to be so. I guess in the haze of the night, my brain failed to acknowledge that we went downhill. How could that be? Downhill going up  meant uphill for us as we worked our way back to camp. It was tough but not nearly as tough as the night before and knowing that our camp lied just on the other side, it was a climb I was willing to make. Finally, I could see Barafu ahead and my steps quickened. I was eager to crawl into my tent and sleep. In the past 24 hours I’d had 3 hours of sleep. I felt wrecked.

Barafu was quiet. I guess most people were either A.) still at the summit B.) asleep in their tents, or C.) had moved on to another camp. The plan for most people is the same. After summiting, climbers return to Barafu camp for an hour or so of sleep before packing up and heading out to the next camp. It’s a frustrating thought to know that after climbing down from Kibo, you still have hours of hiking ahead of you. Fortunately, you’re allotted an hour of sleep in-between. How merciful!

Chichi and I climbed down the rocks and into our own Climb Kili camp and we were greeted with cheers and singing! All of the porters came out to congratulate me with high fives and fist pumps. I was surprised by this. How did they know I made it? I assumed that since it was 10:30AM it must have meant that we were victorious as we would have been back sooner had we failed in our attempts.  Nestor brought a chair out of the mess tent and presented it to me like it was a throne! It sure felt like one. To sit on a chair after such a grueling night felt wonderful! Best of all, he brought me a Fanta! Life was good!

After enjoying my first fizzy drink in 7 days, I got up and headed to my tent. I checked my booby traps and everything was fine. I pulled my sleeping bag out of my duffel but was so exhausted I didn’t bother to even get in it. I just draped it over my body and passed out. I woke up an hour or so later to the sound of Arlette and Adrienne returning. I was glad to hear them back in camp and to know they were well. I drifted back to sleep. My sleep was restless. Because our tents were next to the trail I heard every single word exchanged between climbers as they left camp. Interestingly, everyone used the same word: brutal. One conversation that stands out was between some British guys. One of the guys said, “Wow – that was brutal. Totally worth it but brutal.” He was right and that sentiment was echoed by everyone we came across thereafter. Summit night is brutal.

I woke up about an hour later and got out of my tent. I knew the porters were probably anxious to get packed up and down to the next camp so I did my best to get all my things situated. Once I did, I got out and walked around Barafi camp for a while. I even picked up several flat rocks near the ranger station to take home as souvenirs. When Babu and Mugambo saw me with rocks in my hand, I explained they were “Kilimanjaro gifts”. They gave an uneasy laugh. Secretly I know they were thinking I was one crazy mzungu! 🙂 As I sat admiring my rocks I started to see the “new batch” of climbers trickle in from the trail. They all seemed eager and excited which contrasted with the used up, destroyed demeanor of those who had attempted or reached the summit the night before. I called out to a couple as they passed and said, “Are you summiting tonight?” and they cheerfully exclaimed,”Hopefully! haha”. I smirked and said, “Well good luck! It’s brutal.” (there’s that word again…I’m telling you. It’s the only word that describes it). The woman then said, “Oh wow, did you just do it?” and I said, “yes”.  Then they asked me for advice and I outlined all the advice I had and detailed all the horrors they would experience and once I was 3/4 of the way through explaining how tough it is, I noticed the look of horror sweep across their face. Oh no, I thought. Now I’ve terrified them. Way to go Rhonda.  I quickly backtracked and assured them they’d live to see their families again – haha. No seriously, I assured them that they’d reach the top. They left looking as if I told them I killed their puppy. After that I stopped talking to “newbies”. I’d done enough damage for one day.

I don’t remember the conversations I had with Arlette and Adrienne after they woke up. We were all pretty tired and our conversations didn’t fire up until we were down the trail again. But I remember that as the three of us walked out of Barafu for the last time I felt pretty victorious and proud of us. Here we were, a nurse, an architect, and a teacher…and we had just pulled off one of the greatest adventures a person can have. Though we all reached the summit a few minutes apart, we all did it. We went all the way to the top!

*this isn’t the end of the story. Stay tuned for Day 7 and Day 8).

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Kilimanjaro – Day 6

Karanga...aka Peanut Camp

Karanga…aka Peanut Camp

It was very windy the night before but I was able to sleep. I had lots of strange dreams though. Not sure if it’s the altitude, the Diamox, or just the anxiety. I dreamed about one of my oldest friends, Chris Sink. I can’t recall now what the dream was about. I also dreamed of Blaire Flowers, my friend from work. I clearly remember the dream because it was absolutely absurd: I was at a movie theatre and searching for theatre 26. I went up to an employee and asked if they knew where theatre 26 was and when the employee turned around to answer, it was Blaire! She said she didn’t know where it was but she knew where I could get popcorn. I remember thinking, “Poor thing, she must be new!”. How bizarre!

Felt pretty good when I woke up. My goal for the day was to drink 5 litres of water- 3 on the hike and 2 in camp before bed. The plan for the day was to leave Karanga Camp and head to Barafu Camp, which is the summit base camp, and arrive around lunch time. After lunch, the plan was to take a nap then get our summit briefing before gearing up and going to bed for a few hours. We will wake up at 10PM, do a final gear check, eat a snack, then head up into the darkness at 11:00PM for our march to the summit.

My journal entry: “TERRIFIED!!!!!!!!!!! Terrified of AMS, HAPE, HACE, and worst of all, FAILURE.”

My next journal entry says: “It takes a LOT of effort to stuff a sleeping bag at 13,000 feet. “

 After packing up and eating breakfast, we did our usual last minute bathroom run and final pack check. I told Arlette and Adrienne that I had promised a friend that I would film myself singing “Africa” by Toto with Kilimanjaro in the background. Arlette kindly filmed me while I made an ass out of myself dancing and singing the wrong words to Africa. Unfortunately, the sound didn’t record so all I have is a video of me dancing around like an idiot with zero context. I look like I’m having a seizure.

A line of Limeys!

A line of Limeys!

We headed up the mountain and out of Karanga. We eventually reached a level spot in the trail where many people passed us. There were several mule trains of Brits who passed us as if they were trying to qualify for Rio 2016. That’s okay…we would later see them suffering   near the summit and would pass them (take that!). Adrienne and I needed a potty break so we took off in search of cover. It was hard to find any at that elevation. We did find a place near a cliff that would have to do. While waiting for Adrienne to do her business, I saw a mouse scamper around the scree.

Toilets at Barafu. That last step is a doozy!

After peeing in precarious places, I looked ahead and saw Barafu Camp. Yah! I also saw the horrific, steep climb we had to make to get there. Boo! I also noticed a drop toilet at Barafu that was perched on the edge of a cliff. Precarious pee place indeed!  Never was I more thankful to have our own toilet tent than when I saw that. Well that’s not true. I think the Whitman’s Sampler drop toilet made me most thankful for our private toilet (and my typhoid vaccination). Still, it was a scary sight and I feel sorry for anyone who had to stumble their way across rocks through the dark and wind just to pee. One wrong step and you’d easily fall off the cliff. That would suck.

Adrienne sums up how we all felt

Adrienne sums up how we all felt

We trudged along, following the Brits we encountered earlier. One of them had a terrible asthma cough and sounded pitiful! We found her sitting on a rock gasping and coughing away. Adrienne, who has asthma, asked her if she needed or wanted to use an inhaler. The Coughing Brit said, “No, *cough* I’m *cough* fine *cough*!”. Really?  Have it your way! We continued on towards the camp. Finally! We reached the top of the ridge and this time, hallelujah, unlike Karanga, our tents were the first ones we came across! Yippie! Unfortunately for us, the stinkin’ ranger hut was further up the mountain so after dropping our packs Arlette, Chichi, and I huffed and puffed our way to sign in. Adrienne wasn’t feeling so good so she stayed at the tent and asked Arlette to sign her in.

I made it to Barafu Camp! 15,287 feet!

I made it to Barafu Camp! 15,287 feet!

Durham, UK – Looks fun to me!

When we arrived at the station the park ranger made a point to tell me he was selling Coke’s and Snicker’s. I really wanted one (or both) but all my cash was in my tent and there was absolutely no way I was going to go BACK DOWN to the tent then come BACK UP to the station just to buy one. I didn’t have the energy for all that. While signing in I scanned the book to see who was at camp and where they were from. It was the standard American/British mix with a few sprinklings of Danish, Canadian, and French. Later, I saw Israelis and South Africans in the camp. While Arlette signed in and checked out the occupation list (any Seahorse Jockeys?) I said hello to a young woman who just walked up. I asked her where she was from to which she replied, “Durham, UK”. I said, “Awesome! We are from the United States.” She excitedly said, “Oh I want to move there!” and I chirped, “Oh really? That’s cool. I want to move to the UK!”. I thought all of this was lighthearted conversation but apparently I hit a nerve because, in reply, she snarled, “Why?! It’s boring and there’s nothing to do!”. Frankly, I can’t remember what I said or if I said anything at all. She seemed so angry about the prospect of anyone liking her country that, rather than argue the merits of the UK and why I find it charming, I decided to instead stagger back down the slope to my tent. It seemed a better use of energy.

Barafu Ranger Station- Your one stop shop for Coke and Snickers

Barafu Ranger Station- Your one stop shop for Coke and Snickers

When we got into Barafu, I had a headache so I took some Advil. It went away but I still had that strange, lingering feeling that the headache was just hiding behind something in my brain and was ready to pop out, yell “SURPRISE!” and continue to bother me. It was lurking in the shadows, so to speak. During the briefing I mentioned this to Fido Dido and his response scared me more than any conversation we’d had yet. He said that if the headache is too bad, I’d have to turn back for fear of HACE (that’s High Altitude Cerebral  Edema).

Here is an excerpt from my journal to give you some insight: “In all honesty, I don’t think I will make summit. I think AMS or HACE will turn me back. I’m really scared. Have I come here for nothing? Reality is, it’s not up to me. It’s up to God. Maybe he has another plan. I’ll be devastated. “

As you can see, I was really on edge. Again, it was never the fear of AMS or HACE. I never feared the physical ramifications, the potential for serious injury or even death. It was failure. Our briefing didn’t put me at ease. For the first time, Fido Dido seemed matter-of-fact instead of his usual “hakuna matata” self and for the first time, I was desperate for “hakuna matata”.  We were advised to go to sleep right after an early dinner. We were to wake up at 10PM and prepare to leave. After a light snack of toast (we were told no porridge as it results in more vomiting – joy!) and tea, we’d leave at 11PM American Time, not African Time. Whew – that sounded serious! We would climb all night long with as few breaks as possible. They explained that it would be so cold that stopping for long could be detrimental. Our guides anticipated we’d reach the summit around 7AM or so. So imagine that for a moment: walking in total darkness (other than our headlamps) over rocks, up a mountain, in zero (or sub zero) temperatures ALL NIGHT LONG!  Needless to say, all of this weighed heavily on me as we were sent off to catch some sleep.

I think we all went to our tents around 7PM. With all of my gear layed out, I cozied down into my sleeping bag and prayed for sleep. I was going to need as much rest as possible given the fact, in three hours, I was going to wake up and try to summit the world’s tallest free standing mountain and the tallest mountain in Africa. Lying in my tent, cold and nervous, this seemed almost ridiculous! I wanted to be excited but the F word continued to haunt and nag me – failure. I closed my eyes and drifted off.

More like McGruber

When my eyes opened again, it was 10PM. I don’t know if I woke up because I heard Babu or if I just heard commotion in the camp. I gathered my gear, checked, and double checked. Then I prayed. Then I realized that I had lost the lock I kept on my duffel. Fudge. This meant that I had no way of securing the gear I left behind in my tent. That was a problem. I wasn’t worried about any of our guys stealing anything. I trusted those men with my life! I worried about other people who were wandering around in Barafu Camp. Barafu is notorious for thievery. All the climbers head up the mountain at 11PM on summit night which means anything they leave behind is unattended for nearly 8-12 hours. This made me very nervous because I had approximately 750,000 Tanzanian Shillings in my bag for tips (that’s approximately $450 USD). I really didn’t want to have to cut someone for stealing my porters tips after a hard night of slogging up to the summit so I decided to carry it with me. That made me nervous too! Not because I thought I’d get mugged on the way to the top but because I know myself and I could just envision stupid me pulling out some gummy bears from my pack and not notice that I had left wads of cash on the ground. Money aside, that still left hundreds of dollars worth of gear unsecured in my tent. I decided my best course of action was a booby trap! Yes, folks…that’s what 15,000 feet will do to your brain. It convinces you that you’re freakin’ McGyver and that you can rig a booby trap out of a luggage tag and some hair bands. Don’t ask for the mechanics involved but just know that I felt certain I’d teach someone a bloody lesson if they messed with my stuff and worse case scenario, I’d at least know if someone attempted to nick my gear!

With my booby trap in place, I exited my tent and headed towards the mess tent for some toast and tea. Everything we talked about or did during this time is a blur. We talked a bit, readied hand warmers, took our “precious” aka Diamox. In Adrienne’s case, she bumped up to 250mg. Arlette and I were already on full octane. Adrienne told me before I heard from our guides that our beloved Babu Sistusi was going to go to the summit with us. This was a shock to me for many reasons. First, during dinner I jokingly asked Babu if he wanted to go with us to the summit and he laughed, shook his head, and said, “Noooooo” in a sort of “you’re out of your freakin’ mind crazy white girl” sort of tone. Second, Babu was much older than Chichi or Fido Dido. Third, in my mind it meant they felt that at least two of us might not make it to the top and they wanted to ensure there were enough guides to help the sick/injured/defeated back down the mountain. While I was excited that our sweet Babu would be going with us, the realization that our guides didn’t necessarily think we’d all make it was a crushing blow to me.

Finally, it was 11PM and time to go. Chichi and Fido Dido said, “Twende” which means “let’s go” and I think we answered back with “Sawa” (okay!). And just like that, we turned on our head lamps and silently headed into the cold, the darkness and the unknown….

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Kilimanjaro-Day 5

I took a picture of my dreads. I bear a striking resemblance to someone, don’t I?

A shocking scientific discovery was made on the morning of day 5. Citizens of Earth, it only takes 5 days for my hair to dread. I’m not even joking. I woke up to the biggest, Bob Gnarliest dreadlocks in the back of my head. I guess that’s what happens when you subject your hair to five days of sweat, Kili dust, and never wash it. It didn’t help that I have naturally wavy hair and allowed it to whip in the wind before smashing a cap down over it. It took me 30 minutes to pick, pull, and eventually rake the dreads out of my hair. When it was over with, I had enough hair in my brush to make a bird a lovely, red nest. I hope the ravens of Kilimanjaro are happy in their new home. I’m sure the bald patch will grow in nicely over the next couple of years. *sigh*

Dreadlocks aside, I think the morning of Day 5 was one of the best. I slept well, stayed warm all night thanks to hand warmers, and woke up feeling rested and energized. Since I brought up the hair situation, let’s discuss hygiene on the mountain. There is none. Well, I mean to say there’s very little. The fact is, you’re so tired and so cold that it’s hard to get jazzed up about stripping down and washing one’s naked bod down with lukewarm water only to put half dirty clothes back on. Oh sure, I tried my earnest on Days 1-4 but by Day 5, I quit caring. All the porters reeked of body odor so I figured that so long as I didn’t smell, I was still ahead of the game. Also the dirt on Kilimanjaro is fine and it seems to get all over EVERYTHING. Like a parasite at the top of it’s game, it permeates every pore and settles into places you didn’t know dust could settle. Using baby wipes and the hot water “for wash” that Babu Sistusi brought every day, I did the best I could to stay clean but really by the time we reached Barranco, I was just trying to stay disease free. I tell you all of this, dear reader (both of you), that on this particular fine morning in Barranco Camp, it was COLD and all I could bring myself to wash were my face and hands as well as brush my teeth. In my journal I noted that “I’ve been wearing the same clothes for three days but thanks to altitude, little smells. Thank God I brought enough underwear for every day. I tell myself that as long as I wear clean underwear everyday, I’m clean!” So you see, as Adrienne said, “Standards continue to slip”.  On the weather predictions of Fido Dido, who said it would be warm at Karanga Camp, our next camp, the three of us decided that we’d give ourselves a thorough mountain bath there. The hike from Barranco to Karanga is a short day so I felt certain I’d have all the time and energy needed to really scrub myself clean. * This is what your English teacher calls foreshadowing*

In my journal I said, “I’ve prayed a lot on this journey and I feel closer to God.” Throughout the climb, my ego tries to pop up and crow about the accomplishment of even making it as far as I have but like a game of “Whack-a-Mole”, I smash it down and remind myself that on this mountain, as it is in life, the credit for glorious accomplishments goes to God, not me. Heck, I can’t even give myself a bath on this mountain – I’m certainly not in the position to take credit for much, right? Ha! I then went on to say, “This mountain is so enormous and can destroy a person in an instant yet God is the creator of Kilimanjaro which means he is far greater than all that. I am humbled to be loved by a God that powerful.”

The first half of Day 5 turned out to be my favorite day on the mountain! Our main task for the day was to climb the mighty Barranco Wall. Trust me when I say that photos of the wall do it no justice. The thing is HUGE and intimidating looking. It’s insane that someone ever looked at it and thought, “Yeah, I think that looks like a good way to get up the mountain!”. Chichi and Fido Dido told us that we would need to put our poles away for that portion of the climb. Fido Dido also said that today would be the day that allows us to actually claim we “CLIMBED” Kilimanjaro because we would be scrambling over rocks and pulling ourselves over them. Yah! I love rocks! We were also told we had to cross three streams before getting to the wall. Those certainly had to be the glacial streams I heard running in camp. Sitting in camp listening to all of this, I felt nervous but excited!

Before breakfast I once again had difficulty with packing my gear. My mind felt muddled and I just couldn’t figure out what needed to be packed first. It didn’t matter, which seems obvious now, but at 13,000 feet I just couldn’t get my brain to lock in on a decision. Once I finally got it all settled I walked around camp taking photos and watched the porters walking up from the stream with buckets of water on their head. Beast!

Up Against the Wall, Baby!

Up Against the Wall, Baby!

When it was time to leave camp and tackle the wall, I felt excited! In our usual line order (Chichi, Me, Arlette, Adrienne, and Fido Dido) we headed down the hill towards the streams and the base of the wall. Streams of porters passed by us. It’s always a happy moment when our own porters pass us and you can hear them coming because of the constant exclamatory greeting of “Captain Boola”. I’m not sure if I mentioned this in other posts but that phrase was some sort of inside joke between Chichi and the porters. Chichi called everyone Captain Boola and in return, everyone called him Captain Boola. We asked what it meant but when we did, they only giggled, smiled, shook their head and refused to answer. It only took a few days for the three dada’s to hop in on the fun and we often said it to the delight of the porters and guides. The other strange thing the porters and Chichi said was an odd little sing-songy noise that sounded something like “LalalaLElu”. You’d have to hear it but I often heard Magambo, the chef, and Chichi singing/calling out to each other using it. I digress….where was I? Ahh yes, our porters! I always loved it when our porters passed us. They’d smile and greet us. Babu always said, while carrying some massive bag on his head, “Pole-pole…no hurry Kilimanjaro” as he passed us. I love that man! I really do! I miss him so much!

Porters climbing the Barranco Wall

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“Dada Wa Tatu” aka The Three Sisters climbing the Barranco Wall.

As we prepared to climb the wall, Chichi took my poles and carried them for me. Thank you, Captain Boola! 😉  As we scrambled and climbed, I quickly fell out of breath and struggled to drink water AND breath at the same time. Occasionally, we had to push ourselves against the wall to allow porters to pass. It amazes me that they can balance 35 pounds on their head AND climb up a steep rock wall! At one particularly tight point, which I dubbed Muffin Top Pass, we had to turn sideways, suck in our guts, and squeeze through the rocks. Not too long after that we passed the infamous “kissing rock” or “hugging rock” (depends on who you ask). It’s a spot along the wall that requires you to hug the wall tightly as you dangle over the edge to reach the other side (that description makes it sound scarier than it is). As I passed, I gave the rock a kiss. Hopefully no one with herpes did the same just before me. Eeeew!

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The Queen of Kilimanjaro

Along the way we passed several Americans, two of whom were from Florida. They seemed happy and appeared to be having a good time! We also passed other groups and their guides. Fido Dido was having a good time with his joke that I was his wife and Adrienne and Arlette were either his sisters-in-law or eventually his other wives/girlfriends. This made the other guides laugh and near the top I heard the word “shemedi” (or shemeji?…not sure which is the right spelling) and looked over at a guide who laughed. That word means sister-in-law and the other porters would call us that since Fido Dido called me wife. As I passed the guide laughing, he called me the Queen of Kilimanjaro. I loved it! I laughed and at that point, feeling pretty good, I sort of did feel like the Queen of Kili! *more foreshadowing, kids* When we reached the top, we stopped at a beautiful spot that gave us a gorgeous view of Kibo and we enjoyed some snacks and refilled on water. We shared some snacks with our guides, chatted awhile, took in the gorgeous view and discussed the distance to our next camp, Karanga. It was around this time that I noticed a slight headache. I attribute it to three things: not drinking any tea (caffeine) that morning, not drinking enough water (I ran out half way up the wall) and from breathing so hard coming up the wall. At altitude, breathing can easily dehydrate a person. The air is extremely dry up there. However, when we breathe, we are expelling warm, moist air. When this happens, the moisture is not being replaced by the cold, dry air being breathed in. So at altitude, when you do something that results in heavy breathing, like climbing a wall, you become dehydrated even faster. I would pay the price for all of that hard breathing. *oh look, it’s that F word again…foreshadowing*

It never came so I had to settle for Advil 😦

The hike from our resting spot to Karanga camp is just a memory of suck. I hated it. The guides told us that it was a short day; however, they purposely (or so I suspect) failed to inform us that it was short but brutal. We descended and climbed several small valleys and that part wasn’t that bad. In fact, at one point, we looked across the horizon and saw Karanga Camp pitched on a rocky hillside and thought, “Oh great! We’re almost there.” That’s true…we were. But what we failed to notice was that a HUGE ABYSS separated us from the camp. We started a seemingly never ending journey down switchbacks covered in loose soil that caused us to slip and slide half the way down. Everytime I thought we were at the bottom, we continued to descend. It really made my knees hurt. We finally reached the bottom of the canyon and saw the stream the porters used for water. It turns out that this stream is the last place to gather water so porters must load up onwater – not only carry it up the canyon to Karanga camp, but also take it several more hours up the trail to Barafu camp. I can’t even imagine doing that. God bless their souls. Seriously. Anyway, when we reached the stream we stopped for a few minutes to rest and drink water. My head was really hurting and I suspected no one else felt tip top because no one was talking. I was too busy praying for God to send a dove with a morphine syringe to help with my headache. I don’t know what the others were thinking about.

When we finally made the last push up to the camp, I just wanted to go to gobble down some Advil and go to sleep (since the dove with narcotics was a no-show).  But oh no! We had to go sign in at the ranger’s hut first. After signing in, I looked around for our tents but didn’t see them. I was then informed that our tents were at the very TOP of the camp. Ugh! We passed some South Africans along the way and I think I honestly contemplated begging them to let me just crash in their tent in exchange for 250mg Diamox or hand warmers (okay, not really…but kind of! lol). After what felt like the final summit push to reach Uhuru, we finally made it to our tents. I asked Babu which tent was mine and he said, “Shemedi” and pointed. Ha! I crawled into my tent and searched desperately for my first aid kit. I needed Advil. I felt much the way Renton felt in Trainspotting after scoring smack. If you’ve seen the film, remember that scene when the room kind of spins as he happily takes the heroin? That was me in my tent! Oh…and as for bathing? Forget it. I didn’t care if I got gangrene and died like Harry in Snows of Kilimanjaro by Hemingway. I was too exhausted and in too much pain to consider it. As it turned out, I was NOT the Queen of Kilimanjaro. Not even close. Instead I was the Queen of Suckville, population: me.

Renton says, “Choose Life”

I passed out for a while to allow time for the drugs to penetrate my gray matter but awoke to the sound of Tanzania winning the World Cup. Okay, well I know there’s no World Cup this year but that’s how jubilant the camp was. The place had gone absolutely mad! Porters singing, people dancing, birds squawking. What the Jiminy Cricket?!  Maybe the morphine dove showed up while I was sleeping. I dunno….but the place was nuts! Unfortunately, I wasn’t feelin’ it. Though my head was easing up, my stomach felt horrible. I didn’t have nausea but I had some sort of odd stomach acid over production situation. Time to break out the Pepcid.

Karanga ranks up there with Moir/Mars Camp in total suck value. I fully attribute my disdain for Karanga to my headache but even when it went away, I disliked the place. First of all, it was really rocky and we were camped on an incline. This meant that I slid every time I tried to walk anywhere: the mess tent, the toilet tent, etc. Also, it was VERY windy!  Fido Dido said that it stays windy in the camp and that one time all the tents blew away. Yikes! Here is what I wrote in my journal, “So it seems I associate my wellbeing with the camps. I hated Moir because I had a headache and now I hate Karanga because I am sick. Loved Barranco! I’m feeling nervous about tomorrow. I desperately want to summit but wonder if I can even make it to Barafu Camp? Fido Dido said I didn’t drink enough water so I am going to drown myself before my headache comes back.” 

“Update- Water is God’s medicine because I powered down a litre and feel a lot better. Tomorrow I plan to drink at least three liters before we get to Barafu. “

During tea time we normally ate popcorn but in Karanga camp I walked in and saw some sort of nut. I asked Babu what it was and he said, “peanut”. Later we found out Karanga means “peanut” in Swahili. Really? This God-forsaken, rocky wasteland of a camp is called “Peanut Camp”? How did such a lonely, difficult place get such a cute, cuddly name? The three of us joked that the next pet we get we will call Karanga! Speaking of Karanga Camp, Arlette changed the name to False Hope Camp since so many climbers pass through Karanga and continue on to Barafu. That would make for an incredibly long day, particularly when you have to begin your summit the same night you arrive in Barafu. We talked about how horrific it would be to see Karanga in the distance, believing you’re almost at camp, only to be told you still have hours to go before you actually arrive at the other camp. False Hope Camp!

The view from my tent was amazing!

The view from my tent was amazing!

Last entry into my journal before sleeping:  The weather here is cold and foggy. The wind is picking up. I hope I don’t wake up in Oz! My tent zipper keeps breaking and after 30 minutes of flipping out in the dark for fear of dying of hypothermia, I finally went and asked for help! Junior fixed it! You won’t believe it but he took two rocks, beat the zipper, and like magic it worked. He called them “African tools”. I died laughing. I’m tipping that guy extra. He is awesome! Love him too. Hoping for a restful night. Tomorrow night, if all goes well, we Summit. Very nervous. I don’t want to fail.” 

Our porters hanging out by the rock

Our porters hanging out by the rock

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Kilimanjaro – Day 4

Day four started off with me being filled with terror about what was to come. Luckily I had a restful night and stayed warm thanks to adding a liner to my bag. Temperature in my tent was 38.6 when I woke up. When I crawled from my tent and walked to the toilet tent, I became breathless. It was a 10 foot walk and it freaked me out a little to be so out of breath after spending 12 hours at this altitude. Having suffered with a headache the day before at 13,000 feet, I felt pretty certain my head would explode at Lava Tower where the elevation is 15,000 feet. I had read so much about how other climbers suffered terribly at Lava Tower and I worried that a bad day at Lava Tower would spell the end of my climb.

Cerebral Edema? Hakuna Matata! 😉

Fido Dido had said that those who don’t do well at Lava Tower don’t end up doing well on the summit but not to worry! Ha! I love how chipper and care free Tanzanians are. Everything is hakuna matata. I love that and it can be quite motivating but when you’re wondering if cerebral edema is in your future, you really just want some straight talk, yo!

My journal says, “Sistusi will bring tea soon but I don’t want it. I’ve lost my appetite for all this stuff. Bring me a Dr. Pepper!” Sounds about right!  When he brought the tea he told me he was a little cold last night. I decided then and there that I would give him my bag liner as a token of my gratitude for all that he was doing for  us. He was absolutely the sweetest man in the world and my favorite member of the crew!

Trying to summon the energy to pack was difficult that morning. All morning I had thoughts of, “What have I gotten myself into?” Another journal entry says, “I am enjoying the experience of Kilimanjaro but the constant fear of failure is stressful. I desperately want to make the summit but I don’t want to kill myself doing it. I pray God allows me to summit but that he removes vanity and ego from me.”  I wrote that because I found myself praying to God constantly, asking Him to allow me to summit. But then I wondered if it was wrong to ask God for something like that. Was it just vanity and ego? It was on this day when I shifted my prayers from “please let me get to the top” to “let me accept whatever happens”.

I also noted in my journal that I was starting to tire of being sweaty and dirty. As Adrienne said, “standards are starting to slip”. Ha! True that! I had so much dirt under my nails and despite my best efforts to scrub it all out, it was a futile battle.

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My duffel and the toilet tent at Moir Camp. It took 7,589 calories just to pack that bag. Ugh. Nothing at altitude is easy!

Other than taking my 250mg dose of Diamox, I don’t remember much about breakfast or the time immediately after. But I do remember walking out of the Martian/Lunar landscape of Moir camp and being glad to go. Such a bizarre place, truly. As we hiked out and over the ridge, I remember developing a strategy of drinking as much water as possible. I knew that staying hydrated was the key to fighting altitude sickness so my plan was to drink at least three or four liters before we got to Lava Tower. In our briefing we were told we would have lunch at Lava Tower before heading to Barranco Camp. So based on my calculations, by the time we arrived in camp, I should have consumed at least 5 liters of water.

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Our awesome guide, Emanuel aka Fido Dido. I love this photo!

The day was overcast and we hiked slowly across the ridges towards Lava Tower. With each step, the summit of Kili loomed closer and closer and the glaciers more visible. Still, given that we were now on day 4 and thousands of feet below the top, it seemed impossible to make it to the summit in the time we had left. So much of the day leading up to Lava Tower is blur in my mind. I think it was because I spent so much of the morning in deep meditation and prayer as we hiked – I was THAT fearful of failure.

Thanks to the massive amounts of water I was drinking, bathroom breaks were numerous on this day.I tried to sip everytime I felt the inkling of a headache coming on.  Everytime we stopped for a snack or pee break, the ravens appeared, taunting us with their “never summit” cries! As I mentioned in a previous post, bathroom breaks aren’t light hearted (or fainthearted) matters. Finding a biohazard free spot to do your business is next to impossible, which is shocking given the enormity of the mountain. I want to believe it’s because everyone has the same idea about what would make a good outdoor bathroom. Still, it can’t be ignored that humans are really mucking the place up. It’s filthy and disgusting and shame on every climber who left behind toilet paper and baby wipes instead of packing them out. I digress….During one potty break, surprise, surprise, guess who rolled up? The Dads and Daughters. According to Arlette and Adrienne they made numerous inquiries about Dave and wanted to know where I was. They told them I was peeing behind a rock. Most people would appreciate that peeing behind a rock requires a level of privacy but not these guys…I had just pulled my “britches” up, as we like to say in the South, when I saw them and heard one say “Oh, there she is!”. Duh! Where did you think I was? They just told you I was behind a rock. Peeing. *rolling my eyes*  They asked me about Dave and annoyed, I just explained he did what was best for him. I know they were probably just trying to be friendly but they seemed to delight in Dave’s return and that bothered me. After a short exchange, they moved on, leaving us to drink water and eat some snacks.

The Olga’s – Just kidding!

Until now, the Dads and Daughters were the only real group we had met and with whom we’d had much contact. That changed on the way to Lava Tower. As we walked a group of young women passed us and in a thick, slightly hostile Russian accent asked, “Where you from?” to which we replied, “We’re American!”. They nodded and smiled and I asked, “Are you Russian?”. They nodded and said yes. Not sure if it was Arlette or Adrienne, but one of them dubbed the women “The Olgas”! Hahaha – I still giggle about that one!

Drop toilets on Kili: You’ve been warned

When we reached Lava Tower I felt ecstatic! No headache, felt good…and I was at 15,000 feet! I couldn’t believe it! There were several mess tents erected at the base of Lava Tower so it was confusing at first to find the one that belonged to us. We finally found ours and saw our porters and our wonderful waiter, Babu (Sistusi). After a bathroom break, a few photos, and hand washing it was time to eat! I was excited to see grilled cheese sandwiches! It was a wonderful, cheerful lunch and we really enjoyed it. Afterwards, the three of us hunted a spot to potty but due to the crowds, it was impossible to find a rock that offered privacy. At this point in the game, I no longer really cared if anyone saw my white butt; however, I felt it unfair to subject unsuspecting climbers to that sight. Then again, they may have just thought it was another glacier! Fido Dido and Chichi said there were drop toilets near a camp that was on the other side of the trail. If you read Day 3 post, you know the horrors that awaited us in those things. I’m not sure of the physics involved in such a thing, but someone managed to get poop on the walls. As for the floor, well lets just say it looked like a Whitman’s Sampler of poop. All sorts of sizes, shapes, colors….even some with nuts! (Yeah, I went there!Ha!). Eeek! I used half a bottle of hand sani after that (mis)adventure.

Much to my chagrin, he was NOT one of the Brits we met. *sigh*

Walking back to the mess tent, I saw a pack of white dudes with hellacious sunburns looking at us. Maybe they were waiting to see if we had contracted Ebola from the toilets? I stopped and asked them where they were from and they said the UK. I should have known – only British people can turn such a vivid shade of scarlet! We told them we were Americans and then I asked if they were staying in the camp across the way. They said yes so I asked if it was because they were planning to hike to Arrow Glacier. To my surprise they stated they were climbing the Western Breach! For those unfamiliar, the Western Breach is a treacherous but from all accounts, amazing, route to the summit. For awhile it was closed after some climbers were killed in a massive rock slide. It’s open now but not many people go that way. If I ever go again, I’d definitely consider it as it’s the most direct route to the summit but offers some of the most interesting views. So back to the Limeys…I told them how impressed I was that they were going the Western Breach and one particularly red fellow jokingly said, “Yeah…hardcore!” to which his friend replied, “There’s a fine line between hardcore and incredibly stupid.” I laughed and said, “Well, I didn’t want to say it but since you did…”. I think we exchanged a few more words and we all wished one another luck before setting off. Despite only talking to them for a few minutes, I liked them. They seemed adventurous (obviously) and had a good sense of humor. Also they were British. 😉

Tanzania 178

Three Dadas at Lava Tower – Elevation 15,000 Feet!

After filling up on water, we threw our packs on and headed towards camp. We would be sleeping in Barranco Camp which is in the Barranco Valley, one of the most beautiful sections of Kilimanjaro. My mood was great after surviving 15,000ft! As we entered the valley, we saw our first Senacio trees. Words can’t describe them so just check out the photo! They were so strange and added to the other-world feeling I already had about Kilimanjaro.

Senacio Trees in the Barranco Valley

Senacio Trees in the Barranco Valley

We pushed on and finally arrived at the ranger’s hut. As usual, poor Adrienne made a beeline for the toilet instead of signing in. Because we always hiked in the same order, she was always the last to sign in and when ya gotta pee, the signing in process can feel like FOREVER. It sort of became a camp tradition that Arlette signed both in while Adrienne ran to the bathroom. While signing in Arlette and I checked out the log to see who was in camp and where they were from. We saw Americans, French, Brits, and Canadians. We also noticed that many people had unusual occupations. We saw whale breeders, concert pianists, crab farmers, etc. Arlette joked that she was going to sign in and state that she was a flea trainer.

After signing in we went to our tents and rested for a bit. While I was in my tent, I heard some British people pass by our tents. Arlette and I later died laughing over the one girl who quite loudly and in a very thick British accent said to her guide, “Babu, is that the toilet?” You had to be there, trust me…but it was hilarious! In good fun, we mocked this phrase for the rest of the trip. I also heard another girl with a similar accent say, “Is that garlic I smell?”. Again, I know this means nothing to anyone but Adrienne, Arlette, and me…but I have to document it because it was a priceless moment!

Barranco Camp- above the clouds!

Barranco Camp- above the clouds!

Barranco Camp is gorgeous! This, without any debate, was my favorite camp on Kili. Photos don’t do it justice but it’s just breathtaking (literally and figuratively) to stand above the clouds but still be so far from the top of the mountain. In camp you can hear several glacial stream flowing and of course, looming large above us is the famous Barranco Wall which we would have to climb the next morning.

The night was very cold. I stuck hand warmers into my socks to keep my feet warm but work up some time later feeling as if my feet were on fire! Later that night,  I came out of my tent and looked up to see the snows of Kilimanjaro literally glowing in the dark! It was stunning! Even higher up the stars, including the Milky Way, were shining even brighter than any night I’ve seen before or after. It was a perfect ending to a wonderful but exhausting day. So many of the fears I had washed away. More than ever, I felt confident that I just might make the summit!

Some photos from the day:

Tanzania 171

Trail to Lava Tower

Trail to Lava Tower

Celebrating at Lava Tower

Celebrating at Lava Tower

Our guys! Couldn't have done a thing without them

Our guys! Couldn’t have done a thing without them

Lava Tower

Lava Tower

Senacio forest

Senacio forest

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