Posts Tagged With: Africa

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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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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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!

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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?

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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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Leaving the Colonies

From England to the New World

Living in Roanoke is like living in a British colony circa 1765. It takes months if not years for fashion and news to filter down and it’s next to impossible to find an efficient way to other places. Just as it took colonists months to sail across the Atlantic to Mother England, it takes ‘Noker’s hours upon hours to get to a hub such as DC or Charlotte in order to travel elsewhere. Such is my quandary for Africa. Roanoke is merely a puddle jumping stop so there’s no such thing as direct flight to anywhere. I will be flying out of Dulles to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. One would think that would be the great distance to be traversed but oh no! It’s not. The big hurdle is not the Atlantic. It’s that 250 mile stretch of Commonwealth that separates me from an international airport. 

I have several options:

1. Fly from Roanoke to Dulles – Not going to happen. It will cost nearly $400 and more importantly, the headache that results from dealing with TSA and other airport shenanigans such as making connections, dealing with luggage, etc. just isn’t worth it. Sure, it might only take 37 minutes to fly from Roanoke to DC but the truth is when you factor in all the airport drama it takes hours. Why pay $400 for hours worth of travel when I can spend less money and same amount of time (or less) going via car.

2. Train – HAHAHAHAHA. The problem with this option is that, despite living in a town the railroad built, there are no Amtrak stops within a 50 mile radius. I don’t feel like driving to Clifton Forge OR Lynchburg. Plus, they don’t go to Dulles and I’d have to take a cab from Union Station to Dulles. I’d have to sell an organ to cover the fare or enter into some sort of indentured servitude. I enjoy my freedom and my kidneys too much to consider either. 

3. Personal Car – My car is 14 years old. I love my car and it’s the longest relationship I’ve ever had but….frankly, I’m not sure I feel confident soaring up the road in it. I wouldn’t want to deal with breakdowns or other car issues 200 miles from home, especially with a flight deadline pressing me for time. Plus, I’d have to park my car at the airport and the cost for that would bring me back to the “selling an organ” issue that I want to avoid. 

4. Rental Car – This seemed like the best solution. However, I will be gone for two weeks so parking a rental car for two weeks is absurd so I checked into one way rentals. Holy Gouging! A one day rental is only $20 a day UNLESS you drop the car off at a different location. Doing that jacks the price up to over $100 a day. That’s ridiculous! I refuse to pay over $200 just to a rent a car for a combined trip total of 8 hours ($100 for going up and another $100 coming back). 

Luckily my dad stepped in and offered to drive me if I rented a car (he has a brand new Toyota but doesn’t like driving it anywhere, go figure) so instead of paying $100 a day, I will just pay $20 and he will have the fun of returning it. 

I feel badly though. Similar circumstances happened years ago when I returned from Albania. My poor dad got stuck carting me back and forth from Roanoke to Dulles. So I guess I wonder, dear reader, am I just a cheapskate and a bad daughter for trying to save a few bucks, thus causing my dad to drive me? 

No Fun

Maybe in the grand scheme of this whole adventure, it’s silly. Truth is, I’ve spent a fortune on this trip but I guess I hate spending money on ridiculous things. Spending money on a safari or some other awesome experience seems like money well spent. Spending money on ridiculous things like rental cars seems pointless. I’d rather spend my money on fun and adventure and frankly, there’s little adventure to be found on I-81. 

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The Return of Cysta and the IT Band

So much to talk about. I have been fundraising under the name of “Climbing Kili for Kids” in an attempt to raise money for two orphan based charities in Africa. Today I am proud to say that the goal of $2,000 was reached! Yah!!!! I’m so excited about that.

Next, Cysta the Baker’s Cyst is KILLING me! It hurts so badly and the pain is odd. It’s so subtle in the location that I often think my pain is elsewhere. The pain radiates in other parts of my legs and I believe this is because Cysta is lying against a nerve (so the doc says). Nice. I wish I could get it aspirated before I go to TZ but no one wants to mess with it. *sigh*

I go back to the chiro tomorrow to check my leg strength to ensure my hips stayed aligned. I hope so! I need my legs to be in good shape for the Broad Street Run which is on Sunday. I’m doing everything humanly possible to ensure the IT band pain doesn’t surface. I have KT tape, an IT band strap, I’m drinking H2O like crazy, I’m stretching, I’m strengthening….and I even tried Chi running. I’m torn between getting in a few practice runs or just allowing my legs to rest before Sunday. I might go out on Wednesday for a 3 mile leg stretcher just to see how things go.  So scared!!!!!

The death of me is going to be Cysta and the IT Band. Sounds like a Phil Spector group. 

 

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Ready to Change

I’m so ready to be in Tanzania. I wish I could go today. Not just because I am anxious to start my climb or go on safari and see amazing creatures. I’m ready to go because I am so burned out on the United States of America. American life is wearing my down. I’m so sick of it here. I hate the rat race. I desperately long for a more simple way of living. Unfortunately, it’s hard to live that way in this country. Everyone is racing to get ahead at work, to upgrade their lifestyle, to have a better car, a bigger house, a prettier spouse, overachieving children. It’s a place where value is placed on commodities, not on character. It’s an idiocracy. A place where we numb our discontent with sports, movies/television, video games, shopping, and of course, the ultimate opiate of them all…Facebook. And so, I’m tired of it. I am tired of the artifice of it all. Like Neo, I am ready to unplug myself from the Matrix. Image

I’ve been reading a lot about the porters who help climbers up Kilimanjaro. They work for scraps, really. I think I read they make approximately $20 bucks a climb. Imagine that: 8 days of hard labor, slugging up equipment in a dangerous, low oxygen environment, without the proper clothing just to earn $20. But here in America we complain about the cost of our Netflix subscription. I’m not suggesting that as Americans we are bad people. We’re not. But I do think we are clueless. I remember living in Albania and seeing poverty, true poverty, for the first time and feeling sick to my stomach about the excesses in which I indulge. In Albania my dog lived a better life than the children across the street from me. I think that’s why it angers me so much in this country when I see the level of entitlement that some people have. We have an entire generation of people who think life owes them something. That their existence, their survival  comfort, depends on someone else. I’m not suggesting that there are not poor, hurting people in this nation. There are…but it’s nothing compared to the abject poverty that exists in other places around the world. The bottomline is this: we are a nation of spoiled, petulant children. This statement includes myself. 

Maybe it’s the winter of my discontent or just a mid life crisis but I yearn for something more than this routine, self absorbed life I live. Climbing this mountain is so much more than just an opportunity to post cool Facebook photos. It’s more than just a chance to grab a t-shirt that says “I Climbed Kili”. I’m desperately hoping for a spiritual experience on the slopes of Kilimanjaro. I want to be changed by it. I want it to mean something. Something important, something life altering. Something bigger than me. 

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Small

One of the best feelings to experience, for me, is to stand underneath a star filled sky and grasp the enormity of the universe. I love feeling tiny and insignificant in comparison to God’s creation. Excuse me for a moment while I talk about my faith….but I love knowing that I’m nothing more than a speck of dust in this universe, a creature so tiny that I could be lost at sea and never found, yet God knows me. He knows me by name, he knew me before I was in the womb. So given that fact, surely he has big plans for me, right? I definitely feel like this trip, this journey, this magnificent adventure to Africa is a part of it. I feel like it’s the beginning of something. It has to be because I don’t want it to just be another stamp in my passport. 

So far I’ve raised $1050 for the orphans in Africa. That’s a good amount of money and more than I originally expected to raise. But now it seems it’s not enough. I desperately want to get to $2,000.I want to be able to say that , collectively, a group of friends and I made a small drop of change in a sea of suffering that exists in this world. There are such good people out there, doing such wonderful things. Sadly, I am not one of them…but I want to be. Until then I really want to support and build up those who are fighting the good fight…battling to make a difference in the world, even if that difference is to one small child in Zambia or Tanzania. 

So yes, I wish I could click my heels and leave today. I’m desperate to find my place, my purpose and I am hoping that standing on the world’s tallest freestanding mountain will allow me a better view of what that is. 

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It’s gone!

Today was the big day! I went to have my Bakers cyst aspirated. It was far less eventful than I imagined. I guess for something that has caused me so much pain, I expected more of a “to-do” for it’s going away party. Nonetheless, I am very happy it’s gone!

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This won’t hurt a bit!

The procedure was pretty straight forward. The doc used ultrasound to locate the cyst. They were surprised by it’s location. If I am not mistaken, the radiologist said it was on the lateral side. Apparently, that’s not common. Perhaps that also explains why the outside of my knee area hurts when I run. Hmmm. Anyway, they shot me up with lidocaine to numb the area then proceeded to suck out the synovial fluid. I watched all the gory details on the monitor. Actually, it wasn’t gory at all. It looked like a white stick puncturing a black oval on the screen. However, I will say it was pretty cool to see the cyst deflate on screen. No pain at all. Afterwards the doctor asked if I wanted to see the fluid. Heck yeah! That’s MY fluid. I made that stuff all by myself! Of course I want to see it! haha. It was pretty wild looking. Kind of a yellowish clear color but thick and viscous like honey.  Yum! 

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My glacier covered dream

In non medical related news, tomorrow marks the 90 day countdown for my trip to Africa. Okay, technically it marks the day I drive to DC to spend the night to catch a plane the following morning- haha. But still, it will be a travel day and a day full of excitement for me, so I am counting it!

Also, I should add that tomorrow I am starting a new workout plan. It will involve 4 days of weight lifting. I really need to add some muscle mass and I think the plan I have will be a good start. Lots of solid but basic exercises to help me build strength and add some muscle. It will be interesting to see where I am, physically, in 90 days just before I head out to Kilimanjaro.

 

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