I just want to say–Vegas was incredible as usual! It was great catching up with some of my friends and hearing what’s been happening at home since I left a little over three months ago. I also got the chance to skydive again and it was just as amazing as my first time in South Africa! Speaking of Africa, I found myself constantly thinking about one of the greatest summers I have ever had. Matt, Bryan, and the others would ask me about my trip, but I had a hard time figuring out where to begin telling them; I have done and experienced so much!
I’ve been home in Michigan for a day or two now and everyone is interested about what I’ve been up to and what interesting stories I have. A lot of them kept up with me on this blog, which I was really, really glad to hear. Those times of searching aimlessly for decent internet in the middle of Africa paid off. You guys have no idea just how tedious that was. It wasn’t just internet I had to find, I had to find a place with connectable wi-fi. I wrote my blogs on my iPad, connected that to a wi-fi hotspot to upload to this WordPress site, and then from a computer I could place photos and finally publish a post for all of you to see. This explains those long gaps between publishing certain posts; it’s not because I was lazy and didn’t write anything, it’s because I had no access to the internet.
I had friends say I looked humbled and completely refreshed when I saw them again. That could be true because I was in complete bliss my entire time in Africa (even on summit day on Mount Kilimanjaro). I’ve done just about everything I wanted to do although the stuff I missed I’ll save for my return one day. However I won’t get to ride an ostrich, I weigh 15k too much haha! I do miss all the fantastic people I have met over the last few months; my Rec 13 (and Palmer) house, my Old house (and New house), my safari squadron, my LX6 Kilimanjaro family, the SASTS volunteers, my Zanzibar rafikis, the Zulu family, and some of the locals I met in SA and Tanzania, and especially all of the kids I had the pleasure to teach and spend time with. The kids in Muizenberg and Arusha were some of the happiest children I have ever met, even under their subpar living circumstances. And then there’s the kids of Kayamandi, specifically Aphiwe, Fudo, Atha, RiRi, Ski, Chester, Avele, and Mawande–I miss those guys more than I care to admit. I wonder what they’re up to right now?
I’m glad I was able to share what I experienced in Africa with you all. A lot of my friends and family never really understood exactly what I do when I travel and volunteer in other countries. Now, as you can see, I have the most absolute best time of my life! My main focus in writing this blog was to inspire everyone and show off what else is out there on this humongous planet, from the perspective of an average guy such as myself. I received lots of e-mails from strangers who read this blog asking me a bunch of questions because they want to do the things that I did too. Flattering. I am completely open to answering any questions or giving any advice with anything pertaining to any of my posts.
So keep tabs on me you guys. My stint in Africa may be done for now, but I am already in the beginning stages of planning another big trip abroad. I don’t know where (Southeast Asia?), I don’t know when (maybe next summer?) but it WILL happen soon. Also this time, maybe I won’t go alone? Maybe I can tempt a friend or two or three to come along, now that they’ve seen what I have done. I can’t see myself stopping anytime soon, it’s my drug. And of course, I will be sure to blog about it again. This isn’t the end my friends, it’s just where I begin again. Until next time, be safe folks and happy travels!
Here’s a little something extra for you guys, check it out!
I walked up to the house and was welcomed with open arms. Mama Zulu is extremely gracious and pleasant. Her four-year old grandson, Buscha (sp?), lives with her along with her nineteen year old daughter Lelethu. Buscha is an adorable little kid that loves candy and music! I didn’t meet Papa Zulu. He’s been sick and has been on bed rest for a while, but I would meet him eventually. Mama Zulu showed me to my room. My room is in a shack (for lack of better words) disconnected from the main house. I have my own bathroom, a sitting area with a refrigerator and a couple of couches, and my room which has two beds. All to myself! She said to make myself at home and I certainly did.
The next day, I started at Ikaya Primary School. It’s about ten minutes or so, walking distance from my house. I met the principle and she asked me what age of learners I would like to teach. After being with younger kids for so long, I asked if I could teach any grade from four to six. She thought grade six would be a good fit because they were currently practicing English grammar. The grade six teacher, Pam, came and got me and showed me around the school. For the first half of the school day, we chatted a lot and she was glad to have me here. Chris O’Sullivan, if you’re reading this, thank you for making my first day at the school go so well. All I had to do was mention your name and everyone fell into smiles. Pam then took me to her classroom. The subject of the day? Mountains, specifically Mount Kilimanjaro. I knew all about my old frenemy all too well and so I mentioned to Pam that I just climbed Kili a few weeks ago. She was happy to hear that, as she let me tell the class about my experience and write facts about the mountain on the chalk board. If things couldn’t go my way anymore, Pam had the class write a diary entry in English as if they were going on a mountain hike. I have something sort of like a diary, through the use of my blogs. I then mentioned to Pam that I wrote an entry documenting my experience on a mountain through my blogs. She was thrilled to hear this and asked if I could print a blog post about my mountain experience and bring it to her to tomorrow. She would make an assignment out of it. Yes, my first day at primary went very smooth. I was already liking it a lot and was pumped about the experience I would have here.
The next day, I had a goal at Ikaya. My mission was to find Chris’ group of kids he bonded with when he was here, because I had a couple videos he wanted me to show them. Pam told me that his kids were in grade seven now. So during break I went to class 7D and saw a handful of kids there in a group talking. I went up to them and asked for their help. They were happy to. I took out my iPad and pulled up a picture of Chris and his kids. “Do you guys recognize anybody in this picture?” I asked. Not only did they recognize everyone in the picture, but one of them was a kid in the picture. His name is Avele. I told Avele I had something to show them but I needed everyone else in this picture too. With ease, one by one, Avele gathered the rest of his crew and came to me. I introduced myself to them and talked to them for a bit. I told them I have something Chris wants me to show and asked if they could come to Mama Zulu’s later.
After school some time, all the kids came over to my shack and I showed them the two videos that their idol has made with them in it. They got a kick out of it and even watched them a few times each. They stayed over afterwards and hung out at my place. They were addicted to my iPad, phone, iPod, and camera and took so many pictures! I ran out of room on my memory card but thankfully I have extras. Their names are Mawande, Aphiwe, Avele, RiRi, Ski, Chester, Toy Toy, and Atha. It’s going to take me a minute to remember their names. I had to write them down on a piece of paper haha!
Mawande and Aphiwe mentioned to me that their birthdays are on Thursday. I asked them what they were doing for their birthdays and they both shrugged. So I told them that I would do something special for them on Friday. Thursday is a holiday, Women’s Day, which means school is closed. I made plans that day to go to my old turf in Muizenberg but I would have Friday free. The kids stayed over for the remainder of the night. I walked them back home, or at least to the end of the block and told them I’d see em’ tomorrow. Earlier, Pam suggested to me that I befriend a new crop of kids because Chris spoiled these ones already. But they told me that I have been claimed and not to go to anyone else. I guess I have to listen to them :).
The next day at school, Pam was absent. So I thought I would help out in the computer lab. The teacher there is Zuki (I think?). She teaches math. I fixed a couple of their broken computers and helped the kids out with their word problems. During the whole day, every hour a new cycle of kids would come in that I could help with their work. It was a great way to get the school to become familiar with me. I also brought new pencils to Pam’s grade six class because after seeing them yesterday, they were in dire need of them. Like yesterday, the day went pretty smooth. I have no complaints! At school, Mawande asked if they could come over later. “Sure thing!” I told him. I had to do something first (McDonald’s 🙂 ) but when I returned home, I saw Mawande, Toy Toy, Chester, Avele, Aphiwe, and Aphiwe’s little sister waiting by my shack. Toy Toy wanted to play football (soccer). I didn’t know where there was a field but told him if he could guide me to one, then we can play. Had I known how far they were going to take me, then I would of saved it for another day! I had to carry Aphiwe’s sister the whole way because she’s just a toddler. They led me to a field in the middle of Stellenbosch that took awhile to get to. We played a few football games with some locals who were there and tossed the rugby ball around.
I worked up quite the craving for ice cream! I always do. After we were done playing, I asked them where the best place around for ice cream is. They guided me to Steers, a fast food joint which I have seen all over the place in Africa. I bought them all ice cream, including myself. I swear ice cream can easily make my day. We took the mini-bus back home and when we arrived, there were three more volunteers from Spain who had just gotten there. Two of them will stay in the room next to mine. Hopefully they won’t mind the boys over all the time. I will have to talk to these Spanish girls to see where their heads are regarding that.
It’s only day two with these kids and they are starting to become comfortable with me and would stay at my place for hours, which is pretty cool. During that time, they always spoke highly of their role model Chris a lot, as expected. Hopefully overtime, I would make an impact on them as well. I had to tell them not to come over tomorrow because I will be gone all day, but to come over anytime Friday and we would do something sweet. Tomorrow I would be returning to the Recreation House in Muizenberg. Lucy texted me saying “the house has changed a lot since I left”. Is that a good or bad thing? I don’t know if she meant the actual physical house, the volunteers, or what?
I would soon find out what she meant…
I am planning on buying as much school supplies for these kids as possible before I leave. Friends have messaged me offering to help. So I set up a PayPal account if anyone is interested in donating. Every little bit helps.
You can send through PayPal to my email, DANIELSLLRS@att.net.
I was the only volunteer left at the Shining Star Pre-primary school. Ari had already left about a week ago and volunteers from the different organizations had gone already too. I was welcomed back with open arms by the kids and teachers. I told the principal that I only had two more days after this at the school. I didn’t want to leave them without knowing they had enough supplies to last them for a while so I asked the principle if there is anything they are in desperate need of. Books? Pencils? Paper? It turns out a lot more than I thought. She wrote down a list of things they needed that I could get for them if it was possible.My whole time here at this school, they never asked me for a thing, so I was happy to help them out. I wanted to get as much as possible so I went into town later that afternoon and bought 200,000 shillings worth of supplies from a local stationery store. New notebooks for every student, math books, phonics books, tons of pens and pencils, colored chalk, staplers, packs of paper, pencil sharpeners, erasers, and more notebooks to last each student for a year. On top of that, I paid one months rent for the building the school uses. That was about another 100,000 shillings. It was the least I could do. This school has next to nothing and needed all the help they could get. The teachers appreciated my gesture and gave me a special going away day on my last day there. They gave me a card, took a bunch of pictures with me, and the kids sang to me.
It was my favorite day at the school for sure. I played with the kids all morning and afternoon long. It was a bit hard to say goodbye because there’s still so much I wanted to teach them. Like how to do simple addition and subtraction without drawing circles every single time they attempted a math problem.
I gave word to the coordinators of my organization that Shining Star needed more volunteers and all the help they can get. Nelly, one of the coordinators, said that they will send a lot more volunteers the next chance they get. That’s good news because with each volunteer Shining Star gets, means more money donated to the school.
During one of my final nights, I gave in and got a Masai burn on my right arm. Tradition goes something like this; when boys in a Masai village hit puberty, they are given a ceremony for circumcision. During the ceremony, the boy is given a Masai burn on both of his cheeks, right underneath the eyes. A burn is a circle about the size of a nickel and it signifies when that boy has become a man. This is the part that’s crazy. After the ceremony, the boy is banished into a jungle somewhere in the country and must fend for himself for three months to prove that he is worthy to be called a true Masai man. If he got any help from the outside world in any way, then he will become exiled from the tribe. But if he manages to survive, them he must return to his village with a new cow as a gift to his parents. And by then, the burns on his face will have become scars which signifies that he is now truly a full-fledged man. Crazy huh? I didn’t make any of it up. Stuff like that actually still happens in this world! I chose to forgo the three-month in the jungle part and asked our security guard, Thomas who is a Masai, to burn me in the arm. He happily agreed. Instead of one burn, I got two burns in the shape of a figure-eight. I saw a figure-eight on some Masai men I have seen before and decided that is what I wanted. Call me crazy if you want.
It’s semi-permanent. It starts as a nasty looking scab for a couple of weeks and will eventually fade into a scar. After about ten years, you will barely notice the scar is still there. I wasn’t the only one to get a burn. A handful of others at my house got a burn on either their foot, their arm, or the back of their neck. It will have a cool story behind it and it will be something to remind me of the amazing experiences I had in Tanzania. It doesn’t look too fascinating now but by the time I get home, it should be scarred over. I’ll show you guys it later!
I spent five weeks here in Tanzania and I didn’t buy any souvenirs or gifts for home! My friend Godfrey, who lives in the nearby town of Moshi, wanted to hangout on my last afternoon here. So I figured we can grab some food and go to the Masai market to barter for gifts. Godfrey is a local who found me via Facebook. He’s part of the IVHQ Tanzania Facebook Group and noticed that I was coming to Tanzania at this time. He messaged me saying he wanted to meet people from around the world and said he could take me and other volunteers around the cities. I’ll admit, at first I was a little hesitant in meeting some random guy in a foreign country but he seemed nice though and I met up with him in town. He is a college student and teaches Swahili to English speakers as a side job. He’s actually really bright and it was a nice change having an actual local not affiliated with IVHQ showing me around town. Over my stay in Tanzania, we hung out in town a few times with other volunteers. He’s a student who longs for a connection to the world outside of Tanzania. I can’t blame him for that. He’s never been out of the country. Tanzania is one of the poorest places in Africa so it’s not surprising to know that most people here have never stepped foot outside of it. He wants to go to America one day. I told him that when he does, he’ll have a place to stay in Michigan and I would show him around. As a gift, he gave me a chunk of unfurnished Tanzanite. It was an awesome gift because you can only get Tanzanite in Tanzania and it is expensive everywhere else in the world. I’ll have to figure out how to grind it into a jewel when I get home. Thanks Godfrey!
Later on, I packed my bags and said my goodbyes to my housemates. Most of the housemates I have grown close to have already left the house before me, so the house was full of a bunch of people I barely knew. Needless to say, goodbyes weren’t as difficult here as it was in Muizenberg. But there were still some people left who have been here for a long time that I became friends with, which I had to leave. I had to go to the Dar es Salaam airport later.
Zara (Manchester, UK), Josh (Manchester, UK), Anne (Denmark), and I took an eleven hour shuttle to Dar es Salaam. After a long haul, we made it and I helped them get a room at a nearby hotel. The four of us enjoyed one last dinner in Tanzania at a restaurant on top of the hotel. It took an hour and twenty minutes to get our food but hey, this is Africa! That was expected.
Later on that night I said my goodbyes to the three, as I would be separating from them. They were staying overnight to go to Zanzibar the next morning. I had a plane to catch in a few hours to go back to Cape Town. I’ve said goodbye to so many awesome people in Africa so many times over the past couple of months; I’ll tell you, it’s never easy. You’re part of a group of people with common interests, experiencing a strange world together for the first time. With that, we all grow closer a little faster than it would be at home. I know I’ll never see most of these people ever again. It’s bittersweet but I’m ready to get back to Cape Town. There’s a McDonald’s there waiting for my return :). I can’t end this post without ranting about my beloved African Airports.
Ah yes, African airports. They are the most organized, friendliest, smooth sailing airports in the world. None of what I just said is true.
Harking back on the sloppy mess that was the Johannesburg airport, I had low expectations for the Dar es Salaam airport. I prepared myself for this one. I arrived six hours early to give myself the time I needed to fix any inevitable confusion. Everything went smooth at the start. I was actually able to sleep for a couple of hours as I waited for the South African airline desk to open. Prior to checking in, I wanted to see if my baggage weighed under 50 lbs.
55 lbs. Damn it!
I opened my luggage and checked to see what I could do to lighten the load by 5 lbs. I put on a few shirts and switched my sneakers for hiking boots which were a tad heavier. I also put a book into my carry-on luggage which is already pretty stuffed. Confident that I was of the allotted weight limit, I checked it again.
52 lbs. F*%#!
It was too hot to put on any more layers and I didn’t want to throw anything out. Hmmm.
There were rocks I took from the top of Kilimanjaro that I could probably toss. But then I thought about it and just decided to squeeze the rocks into the nooks of my carry-on. I took the travel pillow out of my carry-on and would just carry it around. That made more room for a pair of pants and another hefty book. I checked the weight again.
My only concern now were the rocks. Some of them were flat with pretty sharp edges. It could be considered as a weapon for sure! Anyways, I made my way through check-in and went to passport security. I didn’t mention this before, but in order for me to volunteer in Tanzania I had to apply for a resident work permit. It was expensive, but it also granted me residency in Arusha. It was also required in order to volunteer. The clerk at the passport security told me my residency expired. I told him that can’t be right, because it lasts for three months. And in all honesty, I didn’t care if it did expire, I was leaving anyways and my permanent home is in the U.S. He gave me a hard time about it so I had to convince him that it doesn’t matter anyways because I’m leaving Tanzania! I love Africa airports.
He finally let me through and now all I had to do was get through one more security check. My carry-on had to go through screening. My carry-on that now contained razor-sharp rocks! Before going though, I thought whether I should tell them first or let them find out for themselves. What if they saw it and immediately whisked me off to some Tanzanian jail thinking I was some sort of terrorist concealing weapons? I knew there was no way the airports in the States would let me carry these stones. But this is Africa and things are “different” here. I took my chances and didn’t say anything. If they said something, I would just throw them away.
They didn’t say anything! The guy at the computer wasn’t even looking at the screen. Instead he was chatting away with another guy. I saw his screen and saw my razor rocks smack dab in my bag pocket. I got my things and went off. Kinda unsettling knowing that I could have had anything concealed in there and they wouldn’t even pay attention to it. But at least I had my Kili rocks!
Ah, Zanzibar! Just the name of it alone sounds like paradise.
Yes I’ll be going there. But before I dive into that awesome chapter, I still gotta get off this damn mountain!
After about ten minutes at the summit, I put back on my gear and made my way back down the path I just came on. It was extremely liberating to know that I wouldn’t have to ascend any further, just mostly descend. I still felt like crap and I still had a hard time catching my breath. I passed my group and made it back to Stella Point with relative ease. However I had zero energy left.
I didn’t realize just how steep we came up. I thought going down would be a piece of chocolate cake, but it was tiresome. Kili’s last resort to try and bring me down. The gravel going down was so loose that with each step I would sink into the mountain. I was exhausted and after three hours, finally stumbled down to Barafu Camp, the site where we stayed right before Summit Day. Three hours! That’s how battered and beaten I was. I told Nderingo that I needed to sleep for at least an hour or two before I hike any further. My body couldn’t go any further. I wasn’t the only one who needed to rest. Everyone else in my group slept as well.
I only slept for about an hour and a half but it was all I needed to regain my strength. I was rejuvenated and anxious to get off this mountain. I walked with another member of my team who suffered more than I did at the summit. After walking for a bit, I became so antsy to get off Kili that I ran full speed down the mountain. I leaped over mud-pits, hopped from rock to rock, and sprinted as if I was running for my life. I found it quite fun. It felt good to feel normal again. The lower I descended in elevation, the better my head felt. It was easier to breathe. Eventually I made it to the bottom of Kili. We all made it down one way or another. I was done with this mountain.
On the way back home to Arusha, we could see Kilimanjaro behind us in the horizon. I didn’t have the same awe-inspiring feeling when I used to see this picture. Before it was “Wow, that looks so amazing!” Now it’s “Screw you Kilimanjaro…”. We all pretty much had the same thoughts :).
I haven’t showered in about a week. I was the dirtiest I have ever been. My beard was bushes and my hair was matted to my head. I immediately darted to the shower and watched all the black goo come off my entire body. I gave myself a haircut and shaved off my beard. I looked like a new man! No time to rest though, because I had to pack my bags again. Myself and a few others would be leaving Arusha tomorrow morning and going to spend a week on the tropical island of Zanzibar! I considered it to be my reward for conquering Kilimanjaro. I have been looking forward to this for months!
Katie, Tanner, Lana, and myself took an eleven hour shuttle in the morning from Arusha to Dar Es Salaam, one of the major cities in Tanzania. Later on we would eventually reunite with Nick and join up with Lana’s hometown friend Ben (Vancouver, Canada). We opted to take a shuttle and then a ferry to Z because it was much cheaper than flying. The big drawback is that it takes a day in a half to get there rather than just an hour by flight. We finally made it to Dar and booked a hotel in the city. The next morning we took a two hour ferry across the Indian Ocean to Z. Out of all the things that make me motion sick, boats are the biggest culprit. I took three motion pills before hand and it knocked me out! I managed to make myself cozy in the aisle of the upper-deck in the ferry. It was a rocky start but I got through it.
Finally, after a day and a half of traveling through the country and in the ocean, we docked in Stone Town, one of the main hubs of the island.
Stone Town had a completely different feel from any place I’ve been in Tanzania. I felt like I was in the middle east. Everything about this fabled town had an arabic vibe to it. Such a nice change of scenery. Another thing, it’s Ramadan here. It’s a muslim holiday that lasts a few weeks (I think) where muslims can’t eat or drink anything as long as it’s daylight outside. Because of this, a lot of restaurants were closed but we managed to find a few that stayed open along the beaches. We had to be careful not to drink our water bottles in the middle of town, out of respect for the locals here.
After a few hours of exploring the city, we took a taxi to Nungwi beach, the setting of my holiday for the next week here on this dream island. I can’t wait to tell you all about it!
Summit Day a.k.a the WORST day of my life. Also the best, but mostly the worst. That will make more sense later.
So we woke up at 11pm in the bitter cold (mind you temperatures are below freezing) to eat a quick breakfast before the final ascent. For some reason, I had ZERO appetite and that is not a good thing. Having no appetite is an indicator for altitude sickness. I forced myself to eat two orange slices, but that’s about all I could muster. The others in my group told me to eat as much as I could, but I just didn’t want to. They barely had an appetite as well.
I layered myself in clothing. Three thermal pants, three pairs of thermal socks, winter pants, maybe about 3 long sleeve shirts, a hoodie, a fleece jacket, my big down jacket, gaiters, a scarf, a snowcap. I was stacked and very warm. The freezing cold was no longer a main concern. However, I felt a headache breaching. “Nooo!”
I was viciously sleepy. I could have slept where I stood and I think I did a few times. Nderingo summoned our group to get into a line. Allison was first in line. I was second, Mike was third, Kang fourth, Lana fifth, and Nick was the anchor. And up we went on the snow patched slope towards the summit.
It was pitch dark. All we had were our head torches to see in front of us. We went extremely slow. Pole pole. I needed to. I don’t know what happened to me. Yesterday I felt golden, but now I feel like the start of something terrible. My sleepiness opened up the door to altitude sickness. I kid you not, half of me slept walked up the mountain. We would stop every ten minutes to take a quick two-minute break which I needed badly. And when I say quick, I mean quick. If we rested too long, we would fall asleep and freeze to death. Whenever I stopped for more than a minute, my toes and fingers would grow numb. It happened where I would instantly fall into slumber after pausing momentarily. That’s how insanely tired I was. The lack of oxygen and sunlight didn’t help my case either. The guides tried to give me sugar and chocolates to boost my energy. They literally forced it into my mouth. I had no choice. The others in my group told me no matter what, not to fall asleep. This was torture and I still had so far to go.
As I slugged my half asleep body up the zig zagging slope, a few people in my group decided it was a good idea to start sing-a-long songs. Everything from local melodies to Disney tunes. Then they started to sing “Call Me Maybe”…
That’s when I decided, either I jump off this mountain or I separate from my party. No offense to LX6, my forever mountain family, but I’m gonna do this alone. With little disturbance as possible. The songs were like lullabies and were drowning my eyes even more than what they were. So at the next rest, I went off to find a place to go number 2. I told the rest of my group to go ahead without me; I could take a while. It was the perfect diversion. It was also the coldest poo of my life! Two of the guides stayed behind with me to make sure I stayed alive.
I don’t remember a lot of the night hike because I was sleeping every few minutes. All I could see was that I still had ways to go. I saw my group far ahead; their head torches glistening like stars in the sky. I’ll admit, I stopped a lot. It was so hard to breathe up there. In addition to my breathlessness, my coughs came back a vengeance. The end of each death cough felt like I was going to vomit. My headache grew worse, but it was nothing a little aspirin couldn’t fix. The cold was the least of my worries. The sickness that I had increased ten-fold. I just wanted to sleep for five minutes.
Finally, after hours of zombie-like trekking, the sunlight cracked open the dark starry sky. A sea of light rose from the snowy clouds. I saw blue skies in front of me.
And like magic, my drowsiness wore off. I was still exhausted, but I didn’t feel the need to sleep anymore. However, it was difficult to catch my breath. After every few steps I wanted to lay on the ground and relax to catch air. By this time, my camel-pack has frozen over. I couldn’t drink any water because the hose was frozen solid. No water for this guy! My camel-pack even had insulation covering it, but it was useless. I even did the trick: blow back the water after every time you take a sip so it doesn’t freeze in the hose. I was in such a trance that I forgot to do that a couple of times.
The guides told me once I get to Stella Point (the point before the summit) its smooth sailing from there. They said it was a straight path to the peak. This was extremely encouraging as the last part before getting to Stella was the steepest. The guides literally had to push me up because I was sinking in the gravel with each step. But finally, I made it to the point and joined my comrades who were resting there. I fell to the ground and felt like I could have died right on the spot. They seemed to have an easier time than I did. That’s the thing about the altitude, it doesn’t matter how great of shape you are in, it effects everyone differently. I knew for certain now at this point, the altitude hates me. She hated me in Peru, she hated me even more on this mountain. I laid on the ground and saw my group look as if they wanted to pass out too. Nderingo pointed to the summit of the mountain, Uhuru Peak. The guides lied to me. They told me it was smooth sailing from here. It turns out I have to ascend more but this time through an icy crevice to reach the peak. I motioned for my group to go ahead of me. My guides suggested I go with them but I wanted to rest a bit more before my last trudge up to summit. I caught my breath, stood up like it was my first time standing on my own again, and slugged away.
The scenery changed almost instantly. I was surrounded by masses of snow, ice, and what looked like huge icebergs just hovering in the clouds. I felt like I was an explorer in the antarctic. I literally stopped to look around and thought to myself, “Daniel, what in the hell are you doing up here?”
I saw other trekkers coming from summit with a happy smile on their face. They glanced at me and asked if I was okay. I guess I looked pretty pitiful haha! “You’re almost there! Just a little bit further.” One of the guides told me to put on my sunglasses. I told him no. “You will get snow blindness!” he said. I’ve read about snow blindness before coming up here. Apparently the sunlight gleans off the pure white snow more so at this high elevation which can cause a nasty glare to the unprotected eye. I was too focused on trying to breathe than to worry about snow blindness, but he insisted that I just put them on. I then let him in on a secret of mine. Sunglasses make me motion sick. I know it’s strange. Don’t ask me how or why but they do. I put them on anyways to please them.
As I was hiking, I stopped and just about collapsed on the ground. My energy left me and I was struggling for air. I remember the day before the hike when the guides went over safety precautions and showed us an oxygen tank they will bringing for emergencies. I remember thinking to myself that I won’t be the one needing it. Oh how I wish that was true! They whipped the oxygen tank out of their backpack and strapped it to my face. After a couple of minutes, they asked if I was okay. I felt the same. I’m not sure if the oxygen helped, but I felt like it did nothing. I nodded my head anyways because I was starting to become worried that they were going to make me stop if I said no. So I slugged along. I’ve never felt worse in my life.
It was the last stretch. The guides pointed to the summit but it was hidden in clouds. I knew I was close. So close in fact that I saw most of my group heading my direction. They just left the summit and were surprised to see me. They thought I had passed out and wasn’t sure if I would make it, otherwise they would have waited for me at summit. They thought I was down and out for the count? I couldn’t really blame them, I looked like a dead man walking. They showered me with excitement and momentum. “It’s just right around the corner Dan!”
Each step I made took a little life out of me but I pushed through…and then finally…
I SAW THE SUMMIT!
I threw off my hat. Tossed my sunglasses. Stripped off my scarf and dropped my walking poles at my feet. All of my ill fated symptoms, headaches, coughing, breathlessness…everything went away. I wasn’t even cold. I was fully conscience.
I made it.
I could of cried. Everyone else certainly did. This was by far the hardest thing I have EVER done in my life. I’ve never felt this level of accomplishment before…ever! I was in a state of euphoria. All of this hard work paid off. I was standing over 19,300 feet in the sky and it was the most amazing feeling in the world. 9:20am is the time I clocked in. I was overwhelmed in relief and excitement. It’s hard to explain in words the feeling you get from this.
I can be honest with you. As much as death grabbed me by the legs the entire summit day, not once was I even thinking about giving up. Not even a little. I knew from the get-go that I would make the summit, no matter how long it took me or how hard it was. That small ounce of determination is what I needed to keep me alive and sane. There was no way I could live this down. I literally felt like I was going to die where I stood, but my strive to get to the top was the stronger force in motion. I never looked back. I never gave in. I came way too far to turn around without any consolation. With that, through all the odds, I found sweet success. My sickness before climbing definitely played a part into my struggle. Even if you have the slightest cough I do not recommend you do this. I learned the hard way.