Posts Tagged With: Kilimanjaro

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 8

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

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

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

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

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

It means:

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

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

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

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

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

Our Amazing Crew

Our Amazing Crew

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

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

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

The muddy road to Mweka Gate

The muddy road to Mweka Gate

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

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

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

Walking to Mweka through banana fields

Walking to Mweka through banana fields

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

One of the "shanty" houses along the road

One of the “shanty” houses along the road

Jambo, chocolate?!

Jambo, chocolate?!

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

The Angelina Jolie of Kilimanjaro!

The Angelina Jolie of Kilimanjaro!

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

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

I wanted to bring this guy home.

I wanted to bring this guy home.

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

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

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

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

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

Best Coke I ever had!

Best Coke I ever had!

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

Our certificates and the Music Man

Our certificates and the Music Man

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

Fido Dido giving me my certificate.

Fido Dido giving me my certificate.

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

Saying goodbye at the Impala

Saying goodbye at the Impala

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

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

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

The greatest adventure of my life.

The greatest adventure of my life.

*Next posts will be about my safari adventure*

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Kilimanjaro-Day 5

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

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

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

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

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

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

Up Against the Wall, Baby!

Up Against the Wall, Baby!

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

Porters climbing the Barranco Wall

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

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

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The Queen of Kilimanjaro

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

It never came so I had to settle for Advil 😦

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

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

Renton says, “Choose Life”

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

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

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

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

The view from my tent was amazing!

The view from my tent was amazing!

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

Our porters hanging out by the rock

Our porters hanging out by the rock

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Kilimanjaro – Day 4

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

Cerebral Edema? Hakuna Matata! 😉

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Olga’s – Just kidding!

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

Drop toilets on Kili: You’ve been warned

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

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

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

Tanzania 178

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

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

Senacio Trees in the Barranco Valley

Senacio Trees in the Barranco Valley

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

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

Barranco Camp- above the clouds!

Barranco Camp- above the clouds!

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

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

Some photos from the day:

Tanzania 171

Trail to Lava Tower

Trail to Lava Tower

Celebrating at Lava Tower

Celebrating at Lava Tower

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

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

Lava Tower

Lava Tower

Senacio forest

Senacio forest

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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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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.

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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!

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Waiting to get our permits

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Porters and bags being weighed

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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*

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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.

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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.

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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)

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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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Arusha

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!

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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 love...er...um.

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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Tanzania!

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….

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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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