Monthly Archives: June 2013

Kilimanjaro- Day 3

Before the day even started I woke up a billion times to use the bathroom. Allow me to explain how this all works on the mountain. When taking Diamox, the need to pee increases and it doesn’t come on gradually. You literally feel all the water drop into your bladder and suddenly the urge is intense. It’s a bit like this:

Eat your heart out boys!

Eat your heart out boys!

In my research for Kilimanjaro, I read that many women take what’s known as a “she-wee” (or something similar. I actually used one call something else) with them. This product allows a woman more convenience and freedom while um…well…peeing. Essentially, it allows you do your business like a man. I bought one because as a seasoned camper/backpacker, I know it really sucks to have to crawl out of a toasty sleeping bag and semi-warm tent and into the darkness just to use the bathroom. Armed with my “she-wee” and a specially marked Nalgene, I did my business in my tent most nights. Well, let me clarify: I did the first round of nightly peeing in my tent. On the second and third times, I had to venture out of the tent. Still, it was nice to have the ability to put those excursions off until I absolutely had to do it.

On the first try, I was very nervous I was going to fill the Nalgene (I apologize if this is too much info. You might want to skip a paragraph if this is too much). Interestingly, night after night I observed that my bladder holds exactly 20 ounces! Good to know! Unfortunately, after my 20 ounce deposit into the Bank of Nalgene, there was no room for additional visits. This meant that when I eventually did venture out into the darkness to locate our chemical toilet, I had to take the Nalgene with me and empty it. Fun! I gotta tell ya, nothing says adventure like stumbling around a gigantic mountain in the middle of the night whilst carrying around a bottle of your own urine! Hardcore, baby!

So on my second night on the mountain (in Shira Camp), I woke up and needed to visit the loo. I began the process of crawling out of my bag and unzipping the 47 zippers on my tent (okay not that many but when you’re about to pee in your pants, three zippers feels like 47) just to escape. I grabbed my head lamp and armed with my 20 ounces of liquid gold, I scampered off to the toilet tent. Holy frost bite! It was cold!!!!! I didn’t care though….I had to pee!!!!!! I darted as quickly as I could into the toilet tent and barely got the layers of clothing off before I unleashed. Something bizarre happened to my bladder on Kilimanjaro. I don’t know if it was the Diamox or if it was the altitude but I peed forever. Do you hear me? FOR. EVER.  I took a video of it:

You think I’m kidding?! Whew! So after I emptied my bladder and my Nalgene, I suited up and headed back to my tent but was stopped in my tracks when I noticed how stunning everything looked! Frost covered everything! Oh and the stars! The stars seemed even brighter and closer than before. I looked across the Shira Plateau to Kibo and no kidding, the snows on top glowed. I stood frozen, literally and figuratively.  I wanted to stay there forever but the cold was penetrating and the urge to snuggle back into my sleeping bag was greater than the urge to soak in the beauty of it all. Still, I regret not staying a few moments more because it was just THAT beautiful. A word of advice to other climbers: spend a little extra time observing things at night. It will be cold but it will be worth it. The world I briefly saw that night now just seems like a fading dream I had.

Once I settled back into my tent I noticed I had a slight headache. I took one Advil and went to bed. I am not sure if the headache was from altitude or if it was from TMJ (I noticed my jaw felt tight and I was obviously clinching my teeth). I fell into a deep sleep and dreamed of Gary and Devin, two students of mine. That made me happy! 🙂

When I woke up the temperature in my tent was 34 degrees. I still felt really bummed about Dave leaving. I also worried it’s a bad sign of things to come. More than ever I had doubts of my ability to summit. Once again, I had no appetite but felt it was related more to stress and my own food habits (I just don’t eat a lot of food, particularly in the morning) and not because of altitude. A word about breakfast: it generally consisted of porridge (which I thought only existed in fairy tales), eggs, and “sausage”. The sausage was really just red weiners. I joked that “My people call it hot dog”” because essentially, that’s what it was. Just some red hot dogs. During breakfast we asked Dave if we could raid his supplies and take some things. We wanted his hand and feet warmers and I wanted his 250mg Diamox. He was kind enough to oblige.

After breakfast we said our goodbyes to David. It was sad. As the three of us struck off Dave stayed behind and waited for a porter to escort him to a road where a park ranger would pick him up and take him home. The rest of the day was difficult and I think to some degree it was because of the sadness we felt over Dave turning back.

All employees must wash their hands before returning to work

The first part of Day 3’s climb was easy. We just walked across the Shira Plateau which was relatively flat. As is the case every day, we watched dozens of porters race past us with heavy bags perched on their heads. Despite watching this process for 8 days, I never stopped feeling a sense of awe when they passed. Such strength! We didn’t take a break until we reached Simba camp which is an underused camp along the way but is mostly used by people on the Shira route. The underuse is good news because it meant the drop toilets were fairly “clean””. For those that don’t know, drop toilets are in most of the campsites along Kilimanjaro. They are simply wooden outhouses with a hole in the foor. The hope is that all users have NBA quality aim and will be able to hover above the hole with such skill so as to ensure all bodily secretions pass through the hole. Much to everyone’s chagrin, this is not the case. Most of them are filthy, wretched places where feces is splattered, scattered and plastered all over (sounds like how my friend gets his hash browns as Waffle House! ha). During my climb I only used two. Once in Simba Camp (which was clean) and once at Lava Tower (that one made me thankful for my Typhoid vaccination and caused me to swear on my mother’s grave that I’d never use another one again). Oh one other thing: If you’re really lucky there is a stick or pole near the hole that you can grab onto and steady yourself. Simba had one and that was nice! It’s the little things that count, ya know? Oh and before you mention it, yes I paid thousands of dollars to do all of this! Ha! 😉

Eventually we reached a fork in the trail with a sign that said “”Shira ——->””. Instead, we took the left turn at Albuquerque – lol. Fido Dido explained that while most groups would head to Shira 2 camp, we were heading to Moir Camp because it would allow us more of an opportunity to acclimatize. The elevation at Moir Camp is significantly higher than Shira 2 and since we would be heading to Lava Tower the following day, he wanted to ensure we were adequately prepared.

The Fellowship of the Diamox

The Fellowship of the Diamox

The hike to Moir camp was a tough one and one of my least favorite days on the trail. My mood was already strange with the departure of Dave. I couldn’t shake the feeling his exit was a bad omen. Also, the trail to Moir was desolate and we never saw another human until we got to the camp and saw our porters. We climbed for a very long time and passed through strange landscapes. Fido Dido said we would pass out of the Heath and into the Alpine Desert and he was right. Along the way we saw some caves and we joked that Gollum was going to pop out. We then joked that instead of Gollum calling a ring his precious, he called Diamox his precious! We laughed so hard about this and Arlette joked that we were the Fellowship of the Diamox! HAHAHA! We then spent the next 30 minutes making all sorts of LoTR connections and parallels. She pointed out that Frodo was trying to get to the volcanic Mount Doom and there we were, hiking up an old volcano called Mount Kilimanjaro. Like the ring, you don’t want to keep Diamox for long because of all the problems it causes. Adrienne then joked that the ravens that continued to follow and harrass us were the ringwraiths. Maybe you had to be there but we found all of this exceedingly hilarious and it helped get our mind off the difficult hiking we were doing.

It was sometime during a particularly hard section of the trail that I started to get a headache. Panic filled me. If I was getting headaches at 12K and 13K feet, then what would happen to me at 15K and 19K? I didn’t say anything about my headache and promised myself that when I got to camp I’d take some Advil, drink water, and rest. We finally crested a hill and saw our camp about a half mile in the distance. I felt so happy and encouraged! We continued to trek down the trail and passed animal dung which seemed strange given our elevation. Chichi and Fido Dido said that it was buffalo droppings. I wondered why a buffalo would come this far but just as I thought that we passed a grotto where glacier water was running and green ferns were growing. Maybe they want the water? We stopped for a break and some photos.

Mars Camp…er I mean Moir Camp

After the longest day of hiking, we finally rolled into camp. Words cannot describe how alien this place looked. First of all, it looked like a lunar landscape. Nothing but rocks. Second, there was some odd, delapidated building that used to serve as a porter hut. To me it looked like the crash site for Apollo 13. Third, we were the only people there. Unlike the other camps which bustled with other climbers, we were the sole inhabitants. It was eerie.If it ever turns out that the lunar landing was a hoax and vast government conspiracy, I know where they filmed the whole thing – Moir Camp, Kilimanjaro. 😉 Maybe it was my sullen mood, maybe it was my headache, or maybe it was the lonely landscape but this camp was my least favorite. I couldn’t wait to leave. After lunch our guides told us that they wanted to take us on a hike to acclimate a bit more. We asked if we could sleep for a few hours first and they agreed. My head was still hurting but I hoped that a nap would clear it up. It did not. I remember waking up a few hours later to the raucous noise of porters laughing and talking. I kept hearing “Mzungu” which means white person. Whatever they were saying about white people must have been hilarious because they were going nuts with laughter.  It wasn’t helping my headache at all which was now raging! I took some Advil, downed a half litre of water and prayed. Twenty minutes later Fido Dido showed up for our hike. My heart wasn’t in it and I just wanted to stay behind and rest but I knew that wouldn’t help me in the long run. The name of the game was summit and going higher was the only way to prepare for it.

Foreshadowing? Eeek!

Foreshadowing? Eeek!

When I emerged from my tent I admitted to Fido Dido that I had a headache but assured him it wasn’t terrible and I felt fine to hike. As we made our way up a ridge line, I sipped on water and prayed that God would ease my headache. Prayer, water, and Advil worked because as we snaked our way along the trail, my headache eased up. By the time we reached the top of the ridge, I felt good. We hung out at the top for awhile and took in the view. Kili appeared behind us, closer than ever, and just as I grabbed my camera to snap off some pics, she disappeared behind the clouds again. Fickle lady! Arlette, Adrienne and I joked around and took goofy pics with our cameras including ones of us pretending to be dead from cerebral edema (altitude warps your sense of humor, I guess).

As I sat on the top of the ridge, thoughts flooded my mind. Do I have what it takes to summit? Will I also have to turn back? In all my planning and preparation, I never considered NO summiting. I’m such a determined person that NOT summiting didn’t even seem like an option. However, once you’re on the mountain you realize that you’re no longer in control of things. You decide nothing. The mountain decides. The strangest thing about altitude sickness is that there is no rhyme or reason as to who gets it and who doesn’t. Extremely athletic, incredibly fit people attempt to climb Kili every day and yet only 1 out of every 3 people make it to the top. One of the most famous examples that I know of is Martina Navratilova. A few years ago she attempted Kilimanjaro and had to be evacuated from the mountain and flown to a hospital because she was struck down by HAPE – High Altitude Pulmonary Edema. If Martina, a world class athlete, couldn’t do it, what chance do I have? I gotta tell you that the thought of not summiting was soul crushing. I tried not to think about it and focus only on the moment but that was hard. I had spent the past 5 years dreaming of Kilimanjaro and the past six months obsessing over it. I had to summit. I needed to summit. I just hoped God and the mountain agreed.

Hanging out with Fido Dido, our head guide.

Hanging out with Fido Dido, our head guide.

Before we headed down, I took a few more photos and said a few silent prayers of thanks. Despite the anxiety I felt about my ability to summit, I felt really happy. I was surrounded by some really fun people and we were growing closer and having a great time. Life, when broken down into small moments like this, is extraordinarily good! I actually didn’t want to head back to camp. I wanted to stay there but the light was fading and the thing about life near the equator is this: when the light fades, it fades fast. It’s like someone turns off a light switch.

When we got back to camp, it was almost dark. We had just enough time to wash up and get ready for dinner. During our briefing, Fido Dido suggested I start taking 250mg Diamox since I was struggling with headaches at 13K. Tomorrow we would climb to Lava Tower which is at 15,000 feet. He said Lava Tower pretty much weeds out who will make it to the summit. If you struggle at Lava Tower it’s not a good sign. No pressure! I guess he saw the anxiety on my face because he assured me that the headaches I had were normal and nothing to worry about. He said that as long as they go away and aren’t intense, I didn’t need to worry. That night my oxygen saturation was 87 and my heart rate 86. Once again, I had no appetite but I swear it’s because I was sick of the food and as odd as it may sound, the smell of the tent. I knew my loss of appetite wasn’t related to altitude because the thought of Subway and a Dr. Pepper made me salivate like Pavlov’s dogs! Let me be clear about the food: The food is great! What Mugambo was able to do at 13K feet is impressive! Truly the food is really great for camp food so my loss of appetite was no reflection on the quality or taste of the food. I was just sick of it. I wanted a cheeseburger. HA! The fruit they served was top notch though…and I had no problem gobbling that down. Seriously some of the most delicious mango and pineapple I’ve ever had. Yum!

My journal entry at bedtime:  Bedtime- feel good. Nervous about tomorrow. Lava Tower 15,000 feet – Yikes! Tomorrow we camp at Barranco. Not feeling confident. If I do okay tomorrow I will feel better. Thanks to God for health and safety. 

Some funny things that I noted in my journal that I want to share:

“The Three Dadas”” – That’s one of the names we were given. Dada means sisters.

Arlette said THE funniest thing I’ve ever heard: “Breathing is taking my breath away”” HAHAHAHAHA

I noted that a porter had a headache. While I felt sorry for him, it made me feel better that a porter also had one. They’re so strong, tough, and used to elevation. Fido Dido said it was because he didn’t drink enough water. Maybe I need to drink more water.

Mount Kilimanjaro

Mount Kilimanjaro

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Kilimanjaro – Day 2

I woke to the sound of porters speaking in Swahili. It wasn’t quite dawn yet but I knew that soon we would have to rise and begin our day. I felt incredibly well rested! However, as I drifted back and forth into consciousness, I suddenly remembered lots of commotion and noise that took place during the night. After talking to the guides we discovered baboons had been running around our camp during the night. Adrienne even heard them playing with the chemical toilet. The hilarious part of all this was that both David and Adrienne thought the commotion was ME! Not sure how I feel about a baboon being mistaken for me – haha!  Later that morning before we left, I saw a large baboon stroll by Arlette and Adrienne’s tent. Once again, for a split second I thought it was a human and wondered why someone was so close to their tent AND once again, I got excited about seeing a baboon so close. It ran from me and climbed into a tree while I snapped off pics like paparazzi. Dave and I followed it as it climbed through the trees before finally disappearing. To this day I can’t figure out why no one else was as excited about seeing a baboon as I was. I mean, it’s a baboon not a groundhog! Oh well – hakuna matata!


Adrienne and Arlette in the rain forest

After breakfast we set off! We spent the first few hours hiking through the rain forest. It was absolutely GORGEOUS! It was on this day that we started what would prove to be the standard routine on the trail – millions of bathroom breaks! The biggest problem with taking Diamox is that it causes one to pee a MILLION times. This is especially troublesome at night but it also proved annoying on the trail. At some point in a conversation, it was revealed that “dada” means sister in Swahili and “caca” means brother. We told the guides that “caca” means “poop”in Spanish. Through constant joking we somehow started referring to the paths leading away from the trail and towards large rocks as “caca trails”. Caca trail proved to be an appropriate name because in our attempts to find places to pee, we discovered many a climber had “sullied” the landscape with some caca of their own. Gross! As if it wasn’t bad enough to find brown trout lurking behind rocks when you’re about to pee in your pants, we had to deal with looking at their nasty baby wipes or toilet paper they left behind. *VOMIT* Humans are filthy, vile creatures. It really disturbed me that so many people thought it was okay to leave behind toilet paper on such a beautiful mountain. I get that nature calls even when you’re out in the middle of…well…nature. But for goodness sake, pack it out or at least bury it! If you’re repulsed by your own waste, how do you think the rest of us feel? ICK!

Okay so back to nicer thoughts….the rain forest was stunning and at times reminded me of King Kong’s island due to the uniqueness of the landscape. We continued our climb when suddenly we emerged from the dark forest into the blindingly bright “heath and moorland”. I remember David turned around and said, “Welcome to the heath!”  Instead of being surrounded by gigantic trees and vines, we were now trudging our way through thick, scrubby plants. As we made our way down the trail, I found my first piece of obsidian. Fido Dido said, “Congrats! You just found a black diamond. You’re now rich!”. Wouldn’t that be nice?


Our fabulous lunch!

We hiked for another hour or so until we reached a saddle along the ridgeline. As we emerged from the bushes we saw Sistusi, Magambo, and some of our other porters. They greeted us with big smiles and Swahili greetings then showed us a perfectly set table (table cloth included) for us to enjoy our lunch. We were served macaroni, fried chicken, and some delicious fruit. While we ate another group of climbers emerged from the bush. It was the group that would eventually be known to us as “The Dads and Daughters”. We had a love-hate relationship with this group. Dave told us he sat with them on the flight over and they were from Utah and Colorado. The group consisted of three men and their teenage daughters. To be fair they were nice and friendly but as you will read in the upcoming entries, they did some things that annoyed and bewildered us. On this particular day they sat near us (but not a table! haha) and ate their lunch. They seemed a little dejected over the fact we had place settings and fried chicken while they sat on the ground eating a boxed lunch. We also noticed that one of the daughters seemed pretty sick. Not sure if it was heat exhaustion or atitude sickness but she didn’t look well and was being attended to by another teenage girl. Personally, I was a little irked that her father wasn’t checking in on her but perhaps there was more to the story than I knew. In fact, while she was struggling on a rock we saw the father whip out an iPad (Yes, that’s right…an IPAD!) and start snapping off pics. Perhaps you had to be there to really appreciate the absurdity of having an iPad 10K feet up on a mountain but for me, it just seemed like such a douchebag sort of move. But hey!- to each their own!


Never Summit! – The Ravens of Kilimanjaro

After we ate we snapped off a few pics of clouds/fog/mist rolling in. It was really beautiful and was a good introduction into how quickly the weather and landscape change on Kilimanjaro. One minute we were hot, the next minute we were chilly from the cold air rolling in. After a few more excursions down the caca trail, we threw our packs back on and took off up a crazy ridge that Arlette later referred to as the “Stair Master”.  As we climbed, Dads and Daughters passed us at a ridiculous clip. We were stunned by how fast they were going, especially when the name of the game was “pole pole” ( Swahili for slowly, slowly – which is how you’re told to approach Kili so you’re able to acclimatize). We also started to have our first incursions with the “White Neck Ravens” which followed us and tormented us for days and days. Adrienne said they reminded her of Edgar Allen Poe and The Raven so the running joke was that the ravens were screeching “Never Summit”!

During a water/snack/pee break we all discussed how we felt better on day 2 than on day 1. In my case I think it was a result of getting a good night’s sleep. My only complaint for day 2 was the sun. It was so intense! I suppose that’s to be expected three degrees below the equator but my poor English/Swedish skin felt like a pork rind. Ouch! Luckily I was wearing SPF 100 so I never got burned…it just felt that way.


Our first glimpse after two days of climbing!

After hours and hours of non-stop climbing up the “stair master” we started downhill. When climbing Kili we all constantly looked down at the trail to make sure we had stable footing. As a result, I didn’t bother to notice what stood before us all as we crested the ridge. In fact, I didn’t even look up until Chichi said, “There’s your first view of Kilimanjaro!””. There she was! Kilimanjaro. I noted the time. It was 2:41PM. We’d been climbing for two days and this was our first view of Kibo (Kibo is the actual peak that most people know. There is another peak known as Mawenzi that is also part of Mount Kilimanjaro). I wanted to cry! It was absolutely breathtaking (literally!) but it also seemed so far away. Standing on the windswept Shira Plateau, it seemed am impossible feat to ever reach the top of Kibo and stand at Uhuru. My moment of pondering and reflection was interupted by a request for photos from the group. We excitedly grabbed our cameras and started snapping off pics when Dave declared he needed to suck his gut in. Suddenly it occurred to the three women in the group that our pack belts were causing muffin tops! EEEEEK!!! Immediately we unhooked our belts and demanded “re-takes”on all our photos. Ha! There we were, standing below one of the most gorgeous natural wonders in Africa….and we’re sweatin’ our muffin tops!

After approving our new muffin-less photos, we continued our journey to camp. We could see Shira 1 camp in the distance. It looked so tiny and fragile. The Shira Plateau is a beautiful but lonely looking place. Even before reaching the camp, I knew it would be a cold night for sleeping.


Shira Camp

When we finally arrived into Shira camp, I dropped my pack and took a few more photos of Kibo before heading into my tent for a little rest. My journal entry says, ” Right now I’m resting in my tent. Kili is behind me and I hear the chatter of the porters. Life is good! I’m thankful to God for good health and safety today.”

After resting, I went to the mess tent for tea and dinner. Inside the four of us chatted about the day and our Diamox side effects. For me, I just had some slight tingling and constant need to go to the bathroom. I noticed that David excused himself and was having an intense conversation with Fido Dido. When he returned he announced that he was DOR (Drop on Request….okay, the truth is, I stole that term from Officer and a Gentleman. All through the movie Lou Gosset Jr. keeps harassing Mayo, played by Richard Gere, to DOR out of the program. Later his friend DOR’s…omg, I digress!!!!). Dave was leaving us! He said that his decision was based on a number of reasons. First, he had sleeping bag issues. He rented a bag from Climb Kili but unfortunately they didn’t have any that fit him. They finally found a bag that sort of fit him but it was a Marlboro Adventure Series bag. Essentially, it’s a bag you get from Marlboro for smoking an ass ton of cigs. Not exactly quality, ya know? But the deal breaker for Dave were the blisters. He said he had some serious blisters on his feet, hands, and shoulders. As much as it pained us all to hear he was leaving, we understood his reasons and respected it. Truly, it took a lot of courage to make that decision and I think he made the right one. Day 2’s terrain was nothing compared to what was to come and I think he would have been miserable or worse, he would have seriously hurt himself had he not turned back. Still, I really felt down about the prospect of losing a member of the group. Granted, I’d only known David for 48 hours but still, I think the four of us really connected. Also, his leaving brought home the reality that there is no promise that anyone can reach the summit. In fact, the statistics say that only 1 out of 3 will reach the top. With only three of us left, we all looked at one another and wondered who would be the lucky one. I don’t know if it was thoughts of failure or something else, but I had no appetite during dinner. In my journal I noted that I wasn’t hungry but I knew it wasn’t from altitude sickness because I still craved other food like…lol….Subway (for those who know me really well, they know  it would be a cold day in Hell before I got sick of Subway) and chocolate. On another note, while we sat in the mess tent we noticed the Dads and Daughters out and about. The Dads had their iPad out and one of the girls was doing hand stands, flips, and other assorted crazy stunts. We were impressed that she had the energy and lung capacity to do such things. The Dads were eating it up, snapping off iPad pics like crazy.

After dinner Fido Dido and Chichi came in to brief us on the next day’s climb and to check our saturation and heart rate. My oxygen was 92 and my heart rate 88. Still good! Arlette still had an oxygen rate of 99! Amazing! According to my altimeter we were at 11,152 feet and inside my tent the temp was 43 degrees. Also, I drank nearly 5 liters of water. Water would be the key to warding off headaches later on.

I didn’t take this photo but this is Shira camp at night. The stars are gorgeous

When it was time to head to bed, I noticed two things: the cold and the stars. It was FREEZING outside but goodness, the stars were stunning! I’ve never seen so many in my life! From horizon to horizon the sky was filled with stars and the Milky Way was bright and enormous! As we left the tent, Adrienne started singing Yellow by Coldplay. I can still hear her singing, “Look at the stars. How they shine for you….””. I felt like they really were shining for me. What a great way to end an incredible day!

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Kilimanjaro – Day 1

It’s Kili Time!

“It’s Kili Time!” (That’s the slogan for the Kilimanjaro beer…but appropriate for my first day)

I spent most of the night before staring at the ceiling – wide awake! I slept a total of 4 hours. I finally began to drift back to sleep around 5ish but the call to prayer started up. Normally I find the call to prayer kind of soothing despite the fact I am not muslim; however, on this morning I was just annoyed. It didn’t help that the singing fired up all the dogs within a 3 mile radius. Ugh!

Our instructions the day before were to be ready to go at 8AM. This meant I needed to get up, shower, get ready, eat breakfast, do a final gear check, store some belongings with the hotel manager, and finally check out. At 6AM, exhausted but excited, I crawled out of bed and into the shower. I quickly got ready and checked everything before heading down to breakfast for my daily dose of corn flakes and passionfruit juice.

By 7:45AM I was ready to go so I sat in the lobby and waited….and waited….and waited. Eventually one of the doormen motioned that my ride was there. Fido Dido, the head guide, walked up and apologized for being late and explained they were operating on “African Time” not “American Time”. I just laughed it off and hopped in the truck. Hakuna Matata! That’s when I was introduced to many members of our support crew. I met Magambo the chef, Sistusi (Babu Sistusi later on) the waiter,  Chicibaba the assistant guide, and many others. We chatted as we drove over to the Impala to pick up Dave, Arlette, and Adrienne. After securing their gear and loading everything up we left the Impala Hotel and began our hours long journey to Kilimanjaro.

Driving around in Tanzania is a delight to my senses! The air smells like fires burning, you can hear music pumping, and the scenery is a kaleidoscope of colors. The buildings are classic third world (which I love and don’t mean that as an insult) and everything about the landscape is appealing to me. Just driving down the highway was fun for me!

Along the way I spied a police checkpoint. Apparently these are pretty common in TZ and from what I understand they’re usually just an opportunity for the police to extort some money out of the driver. As we approached I saw the policeman signal for us to pull over but our driver, Peter, never slowed down. As we got closer and closer the policeman became more frantic and animated in his attempts to stop us. Eventually he started blowing a whistle and waving his arms but Peter, being totally gangsta’, just drove right through it! I remember looking over at David and we both gave each other a “Omg, that was awesome but crazy” look and the whole truck erupted into cheers for Peter!

Speaking of crazy, allow me to talk a bit about the death game Tanzanians call driving. I heard of a saying that goes like this: “In Tanzania, it’s not the lions or mambas that kill you…it’s the traffic.” This is no exaggeration! Driving is treacherous in TZ. Vehicles often pass with oncoming traffic bearing down and little motorcycles known as Piggy Piggy (or Boda Boda, depending on who you ask) weave in and out of traffic as if engaged in a life or death game of Frogger. I quickly discovered that if you’re not behind the wheel, it’s best not to look straight ahead because you will either A.) Die of a heart attack or B.) Soil your pants…and maybe even C.) Soil your pants while having a heart attack. I just looked off to the sides. The scenery was interesting and I didn’t have to stare death in the face.

Back to Kilimanjaro – Okay so after running police check points we continued our journey to a small town known as Boma which lies somewhere between Arusha and Moshi. We stopped at a store to stock up on water and use the bathroom. After what seemed like an unusually long time, our guides and porters returned to the Land Rover much happier and cheerier than they left and I thought I detected the faint smell of beer. Ha! I think they slipped off and had one last Kilimanjaro lager before trudging into the bush for 8 days. I can’t swear by it but even if they did, I didn’t mind. They were about to work very hard for the next 8 days and they certainly earned a “bon voyage brew” in my opinion. I desperately wanted a Coke at that point but was in “hydrating” mode so I stuck to water with Nuun. Not nearly as fun as a beer or a coke, frankly.

After hopping back in the Land Rover we took off. I tried to speak to Salim, one of the porters who was sitting next to me. I whipped out one of my best Swahili phrases (I asked if he could speak English) to which he replied, “hapana” (no) and with that simple three syllable word, our conversation concluded as quickly as it started. *sigh*

Friendly Children in TZ

As our journey continued, we ventured further and further into the hinterlands. It was very rural and we saw people farming and digging for crops in the fields. In some cases they were digging potatoes. In other cases, they were harvesting beans. The best part of the drive was watching the children run out to the road to wave at us as we drove past. What a contrast to America where children would never know you drove past since they all stay inside these days, huddled around their Wii or X-Box. Along the way I saw all sorts of really interesting sights which made the respect I had for these people grow and grow. For example, I saw primitive “saw mills” set up in yards and women carrying large baskets of crops on their heads. Life outside of the Western world is NOT easy and as an American I am ashamed by how much I take for granted. If I want water, I turn on the faucet. It’s clean and I never give second thought to it. If I am hungry, I open the fridge. If it’s empty (and it never is…although it may be depleted of my favorite things) I simply go to the store or better yet, if I am lazy, I just drive to a restaurant. Nothing is hard in this country. Everything is within reach. On one hand I am extremely appreciative of this but on another, I resent it. I resent that convenience has made us a nation full of soft, dependent, skill-less complainers. I freely admit that I am not half the woman most Tanzanian women are. I respect the hard work that is required to live there. It’s humbling. I digress….

As we continued on, a van passed us and honked. It was packed to the brim with men who waved, made faces, and seemed to be having a really good time. I deduced that those were the rest of our porters. Fido Dido said we’d have approximately 18 all together. 18 men supporting 4 climbers. Wow! On one hand that seemed like a lot but later, once I saw the enormously difficult task they have of getting the supplies up the mountain, I wish we had more just so the loads would be lighter.


Peter – awesome driver, total outlaw!

After many, many hours we arrived at a small shack on the side of a hill surrounded by forest. This was the spot in which our guides purchased our park permits. I got out of the Land Rover and chatted with Peter the driver for a bit. I also smiled and “Jambo”-ed some of the porters who were stretching their legs. The air was chilly and I was wearing only a short sleeve shirt. I didn’t dress more warmly because the day before Fido Dido said we could wear shorts as the weather would be warm. However, when I got in the Land Rover that morning he said, “Aren’t you going to be cold?” Um..hello? You told me to dress that way! haha. Speaking of weather, I should point out that despite being three degrees below the Equator, Tanzania is not hot during the month of June. June, July, and August are their Winter months and apparently June is particularly chilly. When I say chilly I mean 60’s and sometimes overcast. While all the Tanzanians were bundled up and shivering like it was January in Alaska, I thought the weather felt Fall-like. I did make the mental observation that the temperature felt similar to what the temperature was like in Iceland last summer. Crazy!


Waiting to get our permits


Porters and bags being weighed


Typical small village

After securing the permits we took off again (as you can see, in Africa nothing is streamlined or efficient. It takes FOREVER to make things happen), this time headed for the Londorossi Gate to sign in and have everything weighed. When we arrived at the gate, there was a flurry of activity. Porters everywhere, climbers hanging out, and lots of people waiting just outside the gate. Those people, as it turns out, were wanna-be porters looking for work. Local men often wait by the gate hoping there is a need for additional porters and that they can be hired on. It broke my heart to see so many men standing there hoping for employment. Being a porter is hard, back-breaking work that pays around $3 a day. To know that conditions are so difficult that dozens of men are waiting around hoping to have a shot at it made me feel lousy about the complaints I’ve made about my own job. Once again, I stood humbled.

When it was time to sign in, I signed after David and just copied most of what he wrote. Unfortunately, I wrote M for sex. This caused a great laugh for everyone and for the rest of the climb whenever I signed in everyone reminded me that I am, after all, a woman. It was also at this gate when Fido Dido decided that he’d start referring to me as his wife. I am not sure why now…but it became another ongoing joke on the mountain which eventually expanded to include Arlette and Adrienne. I remember on summit night other guides referring to Fido Dido and his three wives – haha!

As we waited for all of our gear to be weighed (by law the porters can’t carry anything over 30ish pounds) Peter, the driver, told me that the next section of the road might be treacherous. He explained that it’s very rough and that we would be “driving on three wheels”. I thought he was just exaggerating but he wasn’t! When we finally got back in the Land Rover and took off, I saw what he meant. The road was an old logging trail and there were HUGE ruts in it. Several times the Land Rover leaned far onto it’s side and at one point, I actually made a mental contingency plan on how to escape if we rolled over. It was on this stretch when I noticed children playing in the middle of the road. I thought, “Why are those children playing in the road!? They need to get out of the way. It’s not safe! Children…move! Mo….huh?” The children were actually baboons! HA! I couldn’t believe it. Baboons! I was very excited about seeing them but no one else really shared my enthusiasm. *sigh*


Our drop off point and lunch spot

Colobus Monkey – aka Flying Skunk!

We finally reached a point in which the Land Rover could go no further due to road conditions. Peter parked the Land Rover and we hopped out and had lunch while we waited for all the porters to arrive. Lunch was lovely. We sat at a table in the rain forest while Colobus Monkeys jumped around in the trees.


The Crew at the Beginning of the Climb

After eating lunch we loaded up our packs and we FINALLY began our climb! Initially I was shocked by how slowly Chichi was walking but in days to come, I’d be very thankful for the pace. As we walked I tried to take in as much of the scenery as possible. It was hard to believe that the lush rain forest we walked in was actually part of Kilimanjaro. As we hiked on I started to feel light-headed and out of breath. This shocked me because as a runner and a hiker, I felt I shouldn’t be so out of breath. Then I looked at my altimeter. We were nearly 8,000 feet up. I think the combination of the altitude and the Diamox made me feel strange. Also, for the first time I felt tingling in my feet (a side effect of Diamox). My comrades also reported tingling. Adrienne suffered from it the most, I believe. We hiked for 2 or three hours before finally arriving at Big Tree Camp, our home for the evening. We signed in with the ranger and made our way to our tents. Sistusi brought us tea and hot water for washing. After taking a short nap, I got up and took some photos and wandered around the camp. I also received my tutorial on how to use the chemical toilet.


Home in Big Tree Camp. My tent was in the middle

After some time we were invited into the mess tent for “tea time” followed by dinner. Tea time, as was the case most days, consisted of popcorn and tea or coffee. Dinner was a much more impressive event. Every lunch and dinner menu had soup and for the first night we had pumpkin soup which was ridiculously delicious. We also had potato and beef stew.

During dinner the four of us talked and got to know one another more. Immediately we all clicked. It was obvious from the start that we would all get along well and that the dynamic was a good one. I was so thankful for that! I worried that I’d end up with people who were either annoying or unfriendly. Arlette, Adrienne, and Dave were the exact opposite! They were all very funny, entertaining, and friendly!

At the end of dinner Fido Dido and Chichi came into the tent to talk to us and brief us on tomorrow’s climb. They also checked our oxygen saturation and heart rate. My oxygen was 92 and my heart rate was 86 which was good for that elevation!

Before going to sleep I checked my altimeter and it said:

Altitude: 8862 feet

Temperature: 53.9 (in the tent)


Piusi aka Santa – one of my favorite porters! Even when it was freezing he wore his Santa hat and Maasai blanket.

I went to sleep very happy that night knowing that I was in the middle of living out one of my greatest dreams – to climb Mount Kilimanjaro!

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Woke up to the call to prayer and all the neighborhood dogs barking. Felt very weak and jittery. Jet lag? After showering I headed down to breakfast.  I was greeted by an Indian man who I believe to be the restaurant manager. I later found out that lots of Indians live in TZ. I greeted him with, “Jambo, bwana” which means ” Hello, sir”. He smirked but I wasn’t sure if it was because he was impressed with my Swahili or because he wanted to laugh in my face. Probably the latter – lol.

Since I’m not a big breakfast eater, I was happy to discover Corn Flakes were available. Breakfast was buffet style and obviously tailored to British travelers because generally speaking, they’re the only people I know who eat pork and beans (they think they’re baked beans but I beg to differ) for breakfast. However, in the spirit of travel, I decided to also eat beans for breakfast and by the end of my trip, became quite fond of them.

Generally, in town, my breakfast always consisted of corn flakes, beans, bacon (or something that resembled it), and tea with milk. Oh yes, dare I forget, I also always had a glass of passion-fruit juice! Yum! Music during breakfast was strange- Some German metal band. Odd.

The plan for the day was to meet my friend Nicko (who, at this point, I only knew from Facebook) and we’d go to Neema House to see the babies. He also volunteered to take me to the market to shop for gifts. We met at 10AM and went to the Mt. Meru Market. It was quite different from what I imagined. I imagined more of an open market but this place had “stalls”. Different vendors had their wares in the small stalls and you could walk down aisles and browse. Nicko explained that his uncles worked there and that we would visit their shop and perhaps work out some good deals. I was SO glad Nicko was with me because the shop owners are aggressive. Not aggressive in an intimidating way…just determined salesmen. Naturally they are eager to make a sale and desperately want you to browse their shop and make a purchase. However, with Nicko there, I think they were not as  pushy as they might have been had I just been there alone.

I met Nicko’s uncle and visited some different shops and bought various items. I giggled and laughed the whole time and honestly, I had a hard time saying no to people. Also, in Tanzania it is expected that, when shopping, one will negotiate the price. I hate negotiating! I’m not comfortable with it at all. Thankfully Nicko helped me with some of it. In the end, I probably paid Mzungu (white person) prices and didn’t negotiate as hard as some do but I don’t mind. As I see it, I helped a small business owner stay afloat. It makes me uncomfortable to spend thousands of dollars on a trip to Tanzania only to try to nickel and dime the locals when buying souvenirs. If I paid too much for something, so be it. At least I know that money will help feed a family, help buy clothes, help make life a little better for someone. To me, money couldn’t be spent any better than that!


Nicko and his Uncle

Conductor hanging out the window of a Dala Dala

After leaving the market we headed to Neema House to visit the babies. I asked Nicko if we were going to take a taxi but he suggested that we take the local transport of choice- the Dala Dala! Dala Dala’s are everywhere! There are no city buses. Instead, the locals cram themselves into these mini-buses and ride all over town. The system seems a little complicated at first but later I worked it all out in my head and got some clarification from Clamian and Nicholas (you will learn more about them later). Basically, every Dala Dala drives a particular route. On the front of the bus you will see the name of the route. You wait near bus stands and when one comes by, the conductor often yells out at you. When a dala dala stops, you hop on and go. In Tanzania they say that a “dala dala is never full” and apparently, that’s true because they pack these bad boys like sardines in a can! The one Nicko and I hopped on was pretty full but luckily I found a seat. I think everyone was surprised to see Mzungu on there. Haha. Not sure how much it costs because Nicko paid my fare. I think he said it costs 400 TZ Shillings though. When you’re ready to get off, you just tell the conductor and he tells the driver. It was a lot of fun to ride in one!

Once we arrived at our stop, we had a 10-15 minute walk to the orphanage. Our walk took us through a very rich neighborhood past gorgeous, gated homes. It was a different side of Tanzania and I quickly realized that many of these homes were probably inhabited by ex-pats. Nicko said that many of the UN workers lived out there. Made sense. Many of the homes reminded me of the houses that the embassy workers lived in when I lived in Albania.

When we arrived at Neema House I could hear music coming from the house. We walked around back and went in through the kitchen. Women were making food and Nicko and I slipped through and went into the play room where a man was playing guitar and singing while babies crawled and danced everywhere! My time there was so much fun but so busy that it’s almost a blur. I remember little babies crawling up to me and wanting me to hold them. One baby that I absolutely fell in love with is Frankie. He is a tiny little boy but he gave the best hugs I’ve ever had in my life! He also refused to be put down! He is a little Masaai baby who was one of three triplets. His mother couldn’t make enough milk for them all and unfortunately, he was getting the short end of the stick. Neema House tried to take formula out to his mother but even that wasn’t helping and he was severely malnourished and underweight. Eventually the mother gave him to Neema House and he is doing well although he is still incredibly tiny for his age. He is approximately 18 months old but is the size of a 4 month old. Just tiny! But what he lacks in size he makes up for in personality! Loved him so much that I decided to personally sponsor him. I will be making monthly donations for him.

Frankie stole my heart

Anyway, back to the babies…the music man played and we danced and had a good time. Then Dorris and Michael gave me the tour and I met most of the babies and nannies. What they do at Neema House is nothing short of amazing! The babies are obviously well cared for and loved because they are all fat as can be and just as chirpy and happy! It was good for my soul just to be there. Once again, thanks to all who donated money to help them. I can assure you the money will be well spent and put to wonderful use.

Women wearing kangas

After a wonderful visit at Neema House, Nicko and I decided it was time to head back into town. Michael and Dorris were kind enough to offer us a ride back into town with their driver, Godlove. As we drove through the city I took some amazing photos of daily street life. I saw women wearing kangas (traditional clothing), burqas, and saw soldiers riding in trucks. One of the best pics I took was of a soldier holding a rifle. I didn’t think he was looking at me so I snapped the pic. Hakuna Matata – no worries. It wasn’t until I got back to the hotel that I discovered that he did, in fact, see me and was apparently really pissed off that I took his pic. See for yourself!  ——>

Stop! In the name of

Stop! In the name of love…er…um.

Once we got back to the hotel, Nicko and I had lunch. He explained that he was about to leave Arusha for many months to work on bat research. How exciting! I wished him the best of luck and thanked him for helping me. Nicko proved to be a very good friend and I am glad we met!

After lunch I spruced myself  up a bit before meeting the Climb Kili people in the lobby. I met Fido Dido who would be my guide and I also met Liliana who was one of the admin people. They informed me that we would head over to the Impala Hotel to meet the other climbers. I was excited to meet them. Who would they be? Would I like them?

When we drove up to the Impala, I saw David standing outside. Fido Dido introduced us and we sat down in the lobby and waited for the other climbers. David and I spoke a little bit about our hotel rooms. He said the Impala sucked and I explained that I had read poor reviews about it on Trip Advisor which is exactly why I upgraded to the African Toilet. He said that he had been in three different rooms due to problems with each one. In one case, the toilet came off the floor and leaked water everywhere. Yuck! I felt badly telling him about  the luxury I was forced to endure over at the African Tulip -haha. By the time the other climbers came down, Dave had decided he wanted to upgrade as well! After this conversation, the African Tulip and it’s fine accommodations became a running joke during the rest of the trip.

After a few moments, Adrienne and Arlette arrived. I was excited that two other women were part of the group! Adrienne and Arlette are sisters from Orange County, CA and as you will find out in the next few installments of this blog, we all became really good friends!

We listened to Fido Dido give us the scoop on the climb. He gave us basic ground rules including the famous Kili phrase of “pole-pole” which means slowly slowly. This is key because if you climb too quickly up Kili, you can get sick from altitude sickness. He also talked about how we were a family on the mountain and that we were all in it together and we were not to compete against one another. No problem there. I just wanted to get to the top. I didn’t care if I was the last one to get there. We also talked about gear and he asked if anyone needed to rent anything. Dave said he needed a sleeping bag. They produced a sleeping bag which was of decent quality but unfortunately, was too short for Dave, who happens to be a very tall dude. They assured him that they’d bring another one tomorrow and all would be fine. We had no reason to believe otherwise. After the briefing, we said our goodbyes and headed back to our hotel rooms to prepare our gear and our minds for Kilimanjaro. Our instructions were to be ready at 8AM.

Once back at the hotel, I spent the rest of the night checking gear and ensuring that I had everything that I needed. I then went down to the bar by the pool and enjoyed a “last supper” of penne carbonara and Coke. I called myself carb loading!

After much preparation, I sat down, watched some tv (they had Discovery channel!) then tried to get some sleep. Much to my chagrin, sleep never came….all I could think of was Kilimanjaro!

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After all the shenanigans with Ethiopian Airlines and the general hostilities I felt in Addis Ababa, I was eager to hurry and get to Tanzania. I wasn’t sure what to expect though….


Kilimanjaro from the Plane

As we flew into TZ, the pilot announced that to our left, we could see Mount Kilimanjaro from the window. Being the clever traveler that I am, I already knew that we’d see Kili from the left side of the plane which is PRECISELY why I asked for a window seat on the port side of the plane! YAH! Even though I knew it was a tall mountain, I was still shocked by how large it looked even from a jet! Kili was mostly shrouded in clouds but still, I felt a little emotional when I first spied it from the window! The German couple that sat next to me asked if they could lean over and look out and we all marveled at Kili’s majesty! As we passed by, I turned around and caught my first glimpse of the snow on top. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get a picture. 

JRO is a tiny little airport! We landed, and just like in Ethiopia, we disembarked on the tarmac and walked to the terminal. I kinda like this! It feels very 1970’s. As we, the passengers, strolled up to the terminal we were greeted by officials who immediately wanted to see our immunizations cards (not our passports). Those who had Yellow Fever shots were allowed into the terminals. Those without were taken somewhere else. I can only assume they were made to get the vaccine or asked to leave. So thankful I decided to get the vaccination before I arrived. 

The airport was a ghost town. Obviously there isn’t a lot of traffic in and out of JRO so after filling out my customs card, I walked up to the customs/passport agent and presented my passport. My encounter with the agents was my first taste of Tanzanian hospitality and humor. These guys were hilarious! Unlike American (or other countries) border/customs agents who are serious and intimidating, the Tanzanian agents joked and smiled. When the agent realized I’d not paid for my visa yet, he instructed me to go to the visa agent’s window. I apologized for my mistake and for taking up his time but he just grinned and said, “Hakuna Matata”! Immediately I knew I was going to love Tanzania! 

Once I cleared passport control, I headed over to baggage claim and prayed for a miracle with regards to my checked bags. I saw my large bag that I checked at the counter but no sight of my little bag with the post it note. 😦  As I heaved the large bag onto the luggage carrier, an American man said, “Hey, where’d you get the RedOxx bag?”. I told him I ordered it online and he said he was friends with the guy who makes them. Small world. I told him I hoped to find a second RedOxx bag but feared it would be MIA. The guy said, “Oh no, it’s here. I saw it just a minute ago!” Just as he said that, I finally saw it! Waves of relief washed through me! It made it! It made it! Somehow the post it note managed to stay on the bag and my boots and drugs had arrived! Life was immediately good again and the universe in order!

With a big smile on my face and excitement in my heart, I headed towards the front door and saw a throng of men standing with signs. These were all of the tour operators who had arrived to pick up passengers and take them into town. For a moment I wondered how I’d ever find my ride but as soon as the automatic door opened, I saw a small man holding a sign with the “Climb Kili” logo and at the bottom I saw my name. Yes! I was ready to go. I walked up and in my best Swahili exclaimed, “Jambo!” (hello) and shook the man’s hand. I introduced myself and he said his name was Emanuel. We walked to the van and took off to Arusha! 

As we drove Emanuel talked passionately about his attempts to start an organization that would help orphans and while I was very interested in what he had to say, I was in sensory overload! I was looking out the windows trying to absorb all of the sights while also listening to him. We talked a lot about the plight of orphaned children and even just high risk children living in poor households. Emanuel obviously cared very deeply about these children and wanted desperately to make a difference. He gave me a brochure that explained his budget and plans for sending the children to school etc. Emanuel was so friendly and laughed so easily and I found him incredibly endearing! We talked non-stop to Arusha and along the way, he also explained different things to me (like the herds of cows who grazed on the side of the road). 

I asked Emanuel if he could take me to a Bureau de Change so that I could switch my US Dollars to TZ Shillings. We went to one near the clock tower in Arusha and God bless Emanuel because he took me to one that had a much better exchange rate than many others. I was blown away by the large wad of Shillings I received in exchange for my dollars. I was also a little nervous about having such a bulky wad of money. I tried my best to hide it and kept some out as a tip for Emanuel. 

The beautiful African Tulip.

As we made our way to my hotel, Emanuel showed me points of interest like the UN building and the building in which they tried Rwandan war criminals. Finally, we arrived at the African Tulip, my home away from home for the next two weeks. It was gorgeous! When we walked in I was greeted with a smile and a glass of passionfruit juice. If you’ve never had passionfruit juice, you’re missing out! Best of all, they also gave Emanuel a glass. I thought that was a very sweet thing to do! After ensuring I was able to check in with no problems, Emanuel told me that Climb Kili reps would meet me the following day at 3 to brief me on the climb. We said our goodbyes and I tipped him before heading to my room. 

My first room at the African Tulip was #16. It was a lovely, large room that had a deep tub and shower as well as a window seat. It overlooked a small garden. I quickly made a mess of the room as I unpacked but soon realized I forgot to bring an electrical adaptor. OH NO! How would I charge things? I ran downstairs and asked if they had a spare one. They didn’t but they did bring up a surge strip which was configured to take American style plugs. I was able to use it so long as all the electronic items I charged were dual voltage. Luckily, everything was. Thank goodness! 

Lovely room

After settling in I decided to treat myself to a bubble bath and a nap. I fell asleep in the sunny window while relaxing in the window seat. I woke up to the muslim call to prayer. At the equator the days are equal in length to the night so at 6:30 it was dark. Quite a difference from the 9PM twilight we have in Roanoke. I wasn’t very hungry so I skipped dinner and instead, munched on snacks I brought. I went to sleep that night, my first night in Africa, full of excitement! So far Tanzania was NOT a disappointment!



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At the airport…the journey begins

I arrived at Dulles and stood in a very long line at  the Ethiopian Air ticket counter. The problems with Ethiopian started immediately. Once I reached the counter, the agent stared at me then took my passport and said she’d be right back. She showed my passport to several other agents and spoke in what I can only assume was Ethiopian before finally returning to the counter in front of me. She then said she needed the credit card I used to book the trip. Once more, she left (with my passport AND credit card this time) and had discussions with other people before finally returning and tossing my documents towards me without saying a word. As I put my things away, she barked at me that I’d need to take my bags to the end of the terminal and check them with TSA. Not sure why they were unable to take the bag but whatever, I was just happy to get away from that ticket counter and the rude employees. 

After dropping off my bag with TSA, I headed towards security. Going through airport security has to be similar to what life was like behind the Iron Curtain. It’s a constant parade of “showing your papers” and being scrutinized and interrogated about your actions and intentions. All that is missing are salivating, rabid German Shepards to bark and lunge at travelers while they wait in line.  Like a good lil passenger, I had all my three ounce bottles in a quart zip lock and was ready to go. When it was my turn to send my stuff through the scanner I was completely ready: shoes off, jewelry off, liquids ready, etc. Der Kommissar TSA agent motioned for me to go through the full body scanner instead of the traditional scanner. The body scanner is the one that shows the government all of your naughty bits. Apparently it is VITAL that TSA see your nipples to ensure you’re not smuggling explosives. Regardless, I stepped in, assumed the position, and got the scan. Imagine my surprise when I stepped out and was told I needed to receive a body pat down. Huh?! I asked why and they said it was because I had “pockets” on my pants. Doesn’t everyone? I gotta ask, what is the point of having gamma rays (okay, I don’t know if they’re gamma rays but for comedic effect that’s what we’re going with) shot through my body and exposing myself to government worker bees if I STILL have to get a rub down because I have “pockets” on my pants? The revolutionary in me wanted to protest and ask smart alec questions; the selfish part of me wanted to get to Africa….so I shut up and took my full body massage like a good citizen. Honestly, I felt sorry for the TSA agent who had to do it. Obviously they don’t make the stupid rules but are forced to enforce stupidity. You could tell she was uncomfortable and slightly miserable. I hope she gets paid well. I don’t envy that job. 

Whew! Security cleared and now it was time to make my way to the gate. I felt pretty relaxed and happy at this point. What could go wrong now? Things were fine now. Wrong! When it was time to board the plane, the Ethiopian airline reps stopped me and told me I had to check my carry-on. I asked why and they explained that there was no room left on the plane. This seemed strange to me since I was one of the first people to board. I insisted that I needed to carry it on the plane because the bag was filled with valuables (camera, Kindle, etc.) but more importantly, it contained my hiking boots. If the bag was lost I wouldn’t be able to climb Kili. Panic and dread filled me because lost luggage on the way into JRO (Kilimanjaro airport) is TripAdvisor legend! I continued to beg but my cries fell on deaf ears. The agent wrote on a post it note (I’m not even joking) and stuck it to my bag then handed me another post it note with some scribbles on it. This was supposed to be my claim ticket. Great. I just knew my bag was going to end up in Djibouti or Cairo instead of Kilimanjaro. I sadly shuffled onto the plane and made my way to 15A (which turned out to be the seat I sat in for every leg of the journey- coming and going). I tried to tell myself things would be okay but then I noticed that EVERY person getting on after me was carrying not one, but TWO or sometimes THREE bags! I felt nothing but rage and jumped up and asked a flight attendent to explain to me why I had to check my bag but others were bringing multiple bags on board. She had no good explanation and was curt so I became rather heated and we got into it. Realizing that if I didn’t calm down, I’d get kicked off, I angrily went back to my seat and started praying with fervor that God would get my boots to Kilimanjaro. Sounds stupid, but after spending thousands of dollars, it made me feel sick to think the whole trip would be a wash simply because the post it note fell off my bag and my boots ended up in Calcutta. As I prayed, I also remembered that the Diamox, along with my anti-malarial meds, were in the bag as well. Ugh! Diamox is the drug climbers take to help with altitude sickness and of course, the anti-malarials protected me from malaria. This trip was not getting off to a good start. 😦

Someone over the Atlantic my rage faded a bit and I noticed a little boy sitting next to me. I can’t remember how we started talking but he and I became rather chummy on the 13 hour flight. I can’t remember his name…it was Ethiopian and hard to pronouce….but he explained that he was 7 years old and lived in the US with his father; however, his mother still lived in Ethiopia and he was going to visit her for the Summer. We talked about school and I informed him I was a teacher. I think that made him a little nervous but I assured him I wouldn’t be giving any homework assignments or pop quizzes. Little man talked my ear off for the rest of the time. He even made me play video games with him! He was a very sweet, funny boy and I am thankful I met him because goofing around with him kept my mind off the bag and my worries. 

Somewhere over North Africa we started to experience turbulance. The plane was really rocking and shaking and when I looked at the “in-flight map” that shows the plane’s geographical location, I noticed we were flying over Benghazi, Libya. I wondered for a moment if the turbulance was really rocket fire- haha but yikes!

After what felt like decades, we finally started to make our approach into Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The landscape from above looked green. This surprised me. I always pictured Ethiopia to look like the barren, brown landscape that I saw on TV during the 80’s. I also half expected to see Bob Geldof singing “Feed the World”. Is that wrong? lol  When we landed I noticed  two things:. First, everyone clapped when the wheels touched down. Applause? Really? Were they not expecting us to make it? haha Second thing I noticed, it was very foggy but once I left the plane I quickly discovered that it was pollution. The air was very acrid and burned my nose. My plan, upon arrival, was to inquire about my bag but alas, when I made it inside the airport, there was no one to ask. 😦 

Ethiopia…connecting to the future (with pay phones).

I ended up in the terminal 1 lounge area where people are corralled until time to make their way to the gates. I was shocked to discover people can smoke in the termial! Yuck! As I walked around the lounge, I smiled alot and tried to politely greet people but found the place to be rather hostile. 

As I waited, I spied some Americans. They were LOUD. My goodness, the stereotype is true. Americans are LOUD! But as I watched them more closely, I discovered they were loud because they were happy. They were giggling and laughing and had a good time! So ya know what? Who cares if Americans are loud if it means we’re happy? Unfortunately, I did notice one thing that I thought was stupid. I realized they were either military or more likely, government contractors. I discerned this because A.) They all had short, “high and tight” style hair cuts. B.) Several of them had Army issued backpacks C.) One of them had the desert brown, military issue combat boots dangling from a backpack. My thoughts on discovering this: “Nice job, jackwagons….we’re 10 feet from Somalia”. Maybe I’m too paranoid but it just seems foolish to travel in a Muslim region of the world whilst advertising your American military connections. 

As I continued to wait, I noticed eyes kept falling on me. I think it confounded some men that I was a woman traveling alone. Not sure if it bothered them or just intrigued them. What intrigued me though, was the bizarre commercial I noticed on a tv in the lounge. It was a condom commercial! The commercial lasted, no joke, THREE minutes and it showed all sorts of different people in very innocent situations such as drinking coffee, walking in a field, shopping, etc. Also, it showed not just couples but sometimes three or four people at a time. It never showed people in romantic situations. But the strangest part was that while all of the people were sipping coffee and strolling through fields of barley (Sting!) there was a running subtitle that proclaimed the merits of “Sensations Condoms”. Here is what I now know about them: They are all individually electronically tested and they come in the following flavors: cinnamon, mint, honey, and my favorite…coffee! WTH!?!?!? Coffee flavored condoms? We’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto. 

**I found the commercial on Youtube. Sadly it doesn’t have the subtitles that inform the viewer of all the delicious flavors; yet, I still think that you, the viewer, will appreciate the artistry- hahaha**


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Day Before Leaving….

Saturday, June 8

At the hotel in Dulles. Feeling a little sad as I watched my family drive away. We had a nice time on the drive up from Roanoke. We drove around Mennonite farms in Harrisonburg.My dad and I have always enjoyed driving around looking at farms. We both also find Amish/Mennonite way of life interesting. 

After getting settled in the hotel, I turned on the T.V. and “The Constant Gardener” was on HBO. I immediately turned it off. Watching a movie about a woman murdered in Africa wasn’t what I needed to see hours before I fly there.

Went to sleep full of anxiety. 

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A Perfect Summer Day

The past two days have been absolutely gorgeous here in Southwest Virginia! I’ve capitalized on it by taking my dog swimming in a creek near the spot I grew up. It’s been the best time! As we splashed around I started to think that it’s moments such as those that matter the most in life.

I’ve been on some epic adventures in my short life. I’ve sipped on Guinness in some of the best pubs in Ireland, watched the Eiffel Tower twinkle in the Parisian night sky, climbed over derelict German bunkers on the beaches of Normandy, and have walked in the ancient footsteps of emperors and gladiators in Rome. I’ve climbed Caribbean mountains where pirates used to hide, visited the temples of mythic gods in Greece, and sailed the Adriatic and Ionian seas. I’ve lived among the Communist ruins of Eastern Europe and slept on Mexican beaches. I’ve been attacked by gypsies (seriously) and I’ve climbed glaciers in Iceland.

Yet, as amazing as all that is, and as awesome as Africa will surely be, today as I played with my dog under a perfect summer sky in a creek I swam in as a child, I couldn’t help but think that  small moments such as that are worth far more than the grand, epic adventures. It’s easy and exciting to make a bucket list of dreams and it’s even more exciting when you can scratch them off the list; however, I think that when I am old and dying, I won’t care so much about glaciers, mountains, or exotic locales. I think my dying mind will resurrect the quiet, simple moments I had with the ones that I loved. My memory will drift back to conversations with my dad under a shade tree, opening presents at Christmas with my family, and yes, playing in the creek with my dog. I think, at the essence of it all, that is what life is really about and I think those are the adventures that matter the most.

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Asante Sana Means Thank You!

Asante! That’s Kiswahili for thanks and even in two languages “thank you” seems so inadequate to express how I feel about the outpouring of support I received from my friends and family. I apologize if this turns into a stream of consciousness but I have so much I want to say so bear with me!


First, let me say that this whole “Climbing Kili for Kids” project started as a simple wish to do something simple but positive for the people of Africa. As I planned my trip and poured money into it, I realized that I didn’t want to just be another Mzungu (white person in Kiswahili) who rolled into town, hired porters in imperialistic fashion, then jetted home to my middle class life, never giving another thought to the struggles in an impoverished country. I knew that part of this adventure needed to focus on others since so much of it would be focused on myself (let’s face it…when I am gasping for oxygen at 15K feet, I think I’ll be a little self involved). Long story short, I decided to focus on children. As a teacher I am horrified daily by the struggles some of my own little babies endure here in the United States so I can’t even begin to imagine what children in less affluent countries must endure. The reality is that in many, many countries around the world there is no such thing as a “free appropriate public education” (which is afforded to ALL American children under federal law) and there is no Medicaid to provide poor children with access to medical care. So many children are forced into orphanages for many reasons such as, but not limited to: death of parents, illness, abandonment, lack of resources, etc. In some cases the children have family but the economic situation is so dire that the family must give up the child in order to keep the others alive. Imagine making that choice? Diseases which don’t touch most of us in America are grim realities in East Africa. Malaria, HIV, and ailments related to malnutrition and access to fresh water are daily obstacles to many. I could go on and on about the issues facing children in East Africa but you get the picture…the need is massive and regardless of how small I knew I wanted to take action.

Pajama Party! A few of the adorable babies at Neema House.

I knew I wanted to help an orphanage in Arusha, Tanzania since Arusha will serve as my “base camp”. Arusha is one of the towns near Kilimanjaro and it is where I will stay before and after my climb/safari. I did some research and kept coming back to an organization called Neema House. Neema House is a great place that takes in babies! Sadly, in TZ many orphanages won’t take in babies because of the enormous cost associated with caring for an infant (any parent will attest to this, I am sure). Formula, healthcare, constant supervision, etc. adds up! Luckily, Neema House is there to fill the void! Please check out their Facebook page to see photos and updates of the amazing things taking place!

The second organization I chose was Orphans Medical Network International in Zambia. I’d never heard of OMNI until one day in November when, after booking my flight and trip, I heard that one of the youth pastors at my church was moving his family to Zambia in order to be the in country directors. It seemed like divine providence that the moment I decided to fundraise for orphans in Africa, Robert and Emily became directors for OMNI! OMNI does amazing things too! They provide education and hot meals for over 200 children a day! They also provide mobile medical teams to tribal regions of Zambia.  You can check out OMNI’s website to learn more

OMNI making a difference in Zambia!

So with the organizations chosen, my next step was to figure out HOW to make a difference. The most simple solution seemed like good ol’ fashioned  begging  fundraising! That’s where my beloved friends and family came in!  I know the past three or four months on Facebook have probably been some of the most annoying on record! I realize that it can be painful to see someone posting every three minutes about something, especially when they’re begging for money! Thank you for putting up with me and my posts.

Initially, I had no idea how much to raise. I thought my fundraising efforts would generate little interest so initially I decided on…get this…$600. At the time, $600 seemed almost impossible. However, my friend Sonia suggested that I aim higher and shoot for $2,000.  I thought there was no way I’d ever be able to raise that much money! $2,000 is a TON of money to me. Maybe it is to you too! In hindsight, I feel foolish for not having more faith in the generosity of others. Actually, I take that back. It’s not that I didn’t think my friends and family are generous. It’s just…well…times are hard. Really hard. The economy sucks, 1/3 of all my friends and either unemployed or under employed and honestly, East Africa is a far away place and I just didn’t expect it to tug on the heart-strings the way other charities might. Furthermore, every time we turn around there is always someone asking for money for something and I realize that you can’t always give to everyone who comes along…fundraising.

With that said, before I thank all those who gave so generously, I want to start by thanking all the people who wanted to give but just couldn’t for whatever reason. I received sooooo many heartfelt messages from people who wanted to give, who truly wanted to support this effort and make a difference but due to various hardships and circumstances, just couldn’t. I completely understand and with complete sincerity, allow me to say that your thoughts meant as much to me as any monetary donation you could have made. Truly. *I’m tearing up right now…I hope no one walks in and sees me crying in front of my lap top whilst watching Chopped. That would be awkward.* Thank you.

Next, allow me to thank all those who cross posted my link and statuses on Facebook. I have received many anonymous donations as well as donations from people I don’t know and that’s simply because of my friends who put the word out! You’re amazing and it overwhelms me to know that even in the final hours of this fundraising you were there, beside me in spirit, trying to raise money for children! Thank you.

I also want to thank my dad, step mom, and precious friend Tresa Walko for helping me create the “donor flag” that I plan to carry to the summit of Kilimanjaro (God willing!) . I bought some canvas and eyelets and my step mom broke out the sewing machine to stitch it together while my dad hammered in the eyelets. My artistic friend Tresa painted it and it looks amazing! All that is left to do is add the names of the donors and I’m pleased to say in Spielberg fashion, “I think we’re going to need a bigger boat flag!” Ha!  I’m going to have to write very tiny to fit 65 names on this puppy! But it thrills me to know that with every step up that mountain, I will carry all of you with me in spirit and in name! I am certain that once altitude sickness kicks in and I am hurling my innards out , I will want to quit…but I won’t. I will refuse to turn back because I now have an obligation to carry this flag to the roof of Africa! All your names WILL fly proudly on the world’s tallest free-standing mountain! I am honored and humbled to make the journey!

Finally, I want to thank ALL of you who have donated money to this cause! I am completely gobsmacked (I’ve been watching BBC and I heard that phrase…lol) by the generosity of all of you. I NEVER expected to raise so much and I never expected to have such unrelenting support. Every time I put the call out there, you all answered!  (Too bad you don’t answer my real calls like that…quit screening me! haha). I had donations from all over the world…from as far away as Georgia and Texas to as close as Vinton and Salem! I even had a donation from a friend in Wales, UK! In a way Climbing Kili for Kids became a global effort!  I even had children donating their allowance money to the cause. Children helping children is awesome! Thanks Shelby and Marin Fiddler! 😉

This adventure to Africa started as a bucket list dream I had over 5 years ago. I wanted to climb Kilimanjaro. In one week I will hop on a plane to make that dream come true. But that dream won’t change the world. There is no ripple effect and no lives will be better if I reach the summit. But Climbing Kili for Kids will make a difference. Innocent children, whose lives are not easy, will have full bellies, warm homes, and an education thanks to the money you gave. What a phenomenal impact! How often can you give a few dollars and know that you changed the life of someone? I’m not a financial expert but I’d say that’s a pretty good return on your investment!

I’d like to end this arduously long post by saying that fundraising has been a life changing experience for me. When I set up the fundraising page I posted a quote from Mother Teresa (Go Albania!) which stated, “Not all of us can do great things, but we can all do small things with great love.” Every single one of you, beloved friends, have proven this to be true! The vast majority of donations were in small amounts. We didn’t surpass the $2,000 goal and reach $3,000 because everyone threw down large chunks of money (but uber thanks to those of you who were able to donate large amounts. It definitely helped!). We surpassed the goal and reached a new one because MANY people did small things with great love. *crying again, damn it*

My next goal is to reach Uhuru, the summit of Kilimanjaro. But for now, I really can’t get any higher. Thank you. Asante sana.





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