Tag Archives: Tanzania

Kwaheri Tanzania!

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.

This should last them quite awhile I hope!
The learners of Shining Star!

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.

Reach for the sky!
One more tug-of-war for the road.

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.

From boy to man. Burned!

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!

Godfrey and I at the Masai market. One of the shop owners was playing with my iPad and took a picture of us.

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.

Katie left this for me before she departed.

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.

48 lbs!

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!

I’m coming back home, South Africa. πŸ™‚

Advertisements

Under The Sea

I didn’t think I would be scuba diving in Africa at all. It never crossed my mind. It was on Nicks list of things he must do here in Zanzibar. I came to Africa with the mindset to do everything I possibly can, so Lana and I decided to dive too.

Nick, Lana, and I ready for training!

We had to watch a 20 minute training video and the next morning, we headed to the pool at our hotel to train underwater. Before we agreed to scuba dive, the instructor said that we should not dive if we had any cough illnesses or were claustrophobic. My coughs have been waning ever since I got off of Kili so I was fine there. I have slight claustrophobia but I didn’t understand how that relates to scuba diving. After practicing underwater with the oxygen tank, I understand now how it relates. You’re meters underwater with only a hose as your source of oxygen. I don’t know how that relates to tight areas but I got the same feeling I get when I’m trapped in small spaces. But no worries, it didn’t bother me.

Learning hand gestures.
Practicing in the pool

After about a half hour of training, we headed out to sea! We took a wooden boat across choppy waters to Tumbatu Island, the site of our dive spot. Did I get motion sick from the boat? Not this time. Beforehand, I warned the instructor that I would get sea-sick before diving so he gave me some motion tablets that worked like a charm. Last thing I would wanna do is vomit in the water to attract sharks. Yikes!

We put on our heavy scuba gear and fell backwards into the ocean. We deflated our vests and down we went into the water. The dive was about 20 meters deep and full of sea life. Corals, green turtles, schools of fish, and even eels would make an appearance. I wish I had my underwater camera with me to show you how amazing this was!

And down under we go

Every so often we would have to de-pressurize ourselves by squeezing our noses and blowing out to pop our ears. And no matter what, we could not hold our breaths! Doing that would cause our lungs to expand or something like that. We remembered these simple measures, including periodically checking our oxygen gauge to make sure we had a supple amount left. It all came naturally to us as we glided underwater exploring the sea life. We spent maybe 30-40 minutes in the deep and then inflated our vests so we could float to the top. It was one of the most enjoyable things I have ever done! We got back on the boat and were offered to do a second dive in a different location. Of course, this costs more money and I wasn’t sure if I wanted to do it or not. Nick wanted to. I started to feel sea-sick sitting around on the boat, so he convinced me that I would feel better under the sea. I didn’t need much arm pulling. The first dive was a blast! So in again I went for another mesmerizing dive.

After the dive, we got back on the boat and headed back to the main island. Did I get motion sick? This time yes, but I didn’t vomit. Just felt woozy and nauseous. When we got back to shore, the instructor gave the three of us diving certificates. We aren’t 100% certified but if we wanted to dive ever again, this certificate allowed us to do so without going through training again. Pretty sweet. I can see myself diving in the near future. I never thought I would like it so much.

The next day we booked a spice tour about an hour away from our beach. It’s one turned out to be better than I thought. We were taken to a plantation where many different spices and fruits are grown. I had no idea that cinnamon came from the bark of certain trees. One of the plants produces henna, a thick gooey substance that locals use for painting. Our tour guide grabbed my hand and painted the pinky nail on my right hand. On a man, one nail means you aren’t married, two nails mean you’re married. The henna won’t come off until the nail grows out, so I’m stuck with this for a while. I’ve seen this stuff on locals hands before but until now I never knew what it was.

There were fruits I tried that I have never even heard of. One of them, I don’t remember what it’s called, resembled a slimy slug. It tasted great though! I also had the best mango in my life! It just so happens that mangos are my favorite fruit. The tour lasted for a about two hours. We were treated to tons of different spices and fruits the whole time. Well worth it.

We only had a couple of nights left in Z. On our last night, we ate at Infusion and ordered huge lobsters and other seafood delicacies. Well, everyone but me. I hate seafood. Especially seafood that’s still in the shape of what it looked like when it was alive. I did try tiny, minuscule bits of everyone’s dish but that’s about all I could take. Blah!

It looks like someone hand painted each of these lobsters.

Take a look at my pinky nail

We did so much on this beautiful island and everyday here has been the absolute definition of paradise. We spent a week here and I felt like that was a perfect amount of time. I could have stayed on that island forever though! We all could have.

Lana and I ate so much ice cream in Zanzibar. It was great!
One of many different varieties of Zanzibar pizza. This is the sausage pizza.

On our last morning, we headed back to Stone Town and said our goodbyes to Nick. He was leaving to go back home to London, where he could enjoy the Summer Olympics which at the time, started just a couple of days ago. It was a bit weird when he wasn’t around. Lana, Nick, and myself pretty much spent the past two weeks together, 24/7. One week on Kili and immediately after on Zanzibar for another week. But it was time to get back to Arusha to see my kids that I haven’t seen in two weeks. They’re probably anxious to see me! My time in Tanzania was coming to an end as well. In just a few short days, I would be going back to South Africa for another month. As much fun as I had here in Tanzania, I’m pretty pumped to go back to where my story in Africa began.

I’m taking my wife here for our honeymoon. I’ll miss you Z!

Voyage to Z

Ah, Zanzibar! Just the name of it alone sounds like paradise.

Zanzibar.

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.

The entire team. The porters, the cook, the guides, and LX6!
My mountain family minus Allison, who is on her way down right now!

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.

It wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows on that ferry…ugh…

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

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.

All tatted up for Z!

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!

Z πŸ™‚

Kilimanjaro Conquered

Summit Day: Day 5 (Friday July 20th)

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.

All smiles for the camera

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?”

This is what the top of Kilimanjaro looks like.

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.

Kili, you put up a good fight…

Now time to get the f*%* off this mountain!

The Conquest of Kilimanjaro

“Do you think I’m alright to climb Kilimanjaro?”

The doctor didn’t answer me immediately. He instead checked my heart rate and prescribed me with a bunch of meds. “If you take these, you should be okay by then” he said. It was friday, which meant I needed these drugs to work by Sunday in order to be in good shape for the tallest free-standing mountain in the world. What a long shot!

I rarely ever take any pills or medications back at home. If I have a headache, I refuse to take an aspirin; I just sleep it off. If I have a cold, I just let my body build up the proper immunity. What the doctor here in Arusha prescribed me with is just insane! Just look at it all…

For real?????

It’s so much! I’m very naive when it comes to this stuff. I feel like a pill popper. Will I die from taking all of these drugs at once? I don’t even know what those yellow tablets are for. In addition to the malaria pills that I have been taking once every day, now I have to take all of these at least once or a few times per day. But I felt like I had to do whatever was necessary to feel better. With that, I made my decision that I was going to climb. So I told Lana (Vancouver, Canada), another volunteer in charge of organizing a team of trekkers, “I’m in”. I would regret it if I didn’t at least try. However, if I didn’t make it to the peak, then it would be one of my more embarrassing moments.

Preparation Day (Sunday July 15th)

For the next few blog posts, I’m going to treat my experience on Kili as sort of a rough guide for any of you readers out there in the world who are interested in summiting this gargantuan beast. I’ll share what to do and what not to do. My first-hand experience.

There are six of us making the journey to the summit: Myself, Lana, Mike, Nick (London, UK), Allison (Chicago, US) and Kang (China). We are team LX6! LX6 stands for “Lana times 6. We were picked up from Arusha and taken to Moshi in the morning.

LX6 at the hostel before the hike.

The name of the company we went with is called Karibu. They are a little cheaper than most other companies and well worth it. We went to get the necessary gear we needed. This equipment place had everything we could ever want. So if you come unprepared do not worry. Everything you need for the climb is here available to rent and is included in the lump cost. The items I had rented as recommended by our guides are :

1 large down jacket
3 pairs of thermal socks
3 pairs of thermal slacks
1 balaclava
1 head torch
1 fleece jacket
1 rain proof pants
1 pair of gloves
1 pair of gaiters
1 camel-pack
1 pair of heavy-duty pants
2 walking poles
1 water bottle

In addition to those items, I had already brought with me:

1 rain jacket
1 scarf
1 winter hat
1 pair of hiking boots
5 long and short sleeve shirts
1 cargo shorts
1 cargo pants
1 hand torch

You can rent all of those from the equipment shop as well. I used all of these items on the mountain and found that everything was absolutely necessary for the long ascent. I rented the water bottle just in case there was a hole in my camel-pack; I would have a back up. Maybe I could have done without the scarf but it was a nice touch to have. Next we hit up the local grocery to load up on snacks. I will burn a lot of calories hiking hours upon hours so it was essential that I brought plenty of snacks to replenish some energy. This is what I brought:

2 cases of Pringles
4 Snicker bars
1 bag of mini Mars Bars
2 bags of roasted cashews
1 box of chocolate cookies

Being the chocolate fiend that I am, I ate two of the Snicker bars before the hike even began :). I will tell you first hand though, pausing to eat a Snickers after hours of hiking is the best thing in the world! I never had a Snickers bar that tasted so good. I would advise against getting cashews or peanuts. They dried my mouth out and I didn’t get the glucose energy I needed from them like I got from the chocolates.

We were taken to our hostel for the night where we were given a brief lecture about important things we should know about our hike. We met our three guides there: Nderingo (the chief guide), Peter (assistant guide), and Sosteness (assistant guide). We would wake up in the morning the next day to start our ascent up the Machame Route, the second hardest ascent to the summit of Kili.

Day 1 (Monday July 16th)

At the start of the Machame Route.

The hike on the first day was through a humid, muddy jungle. Trees were draped with vines and covered with bright green moss. Flys and mosquitoes were everywhere! It was a sweat fest for sure.

I was certain I’d see Tarzan swinging around on these vines at some point.

It’s highly recommended that climbers hike very, very slowly to let their body acclimate properly to the increasing altitude. And that’s exactly what I did. I had the pace of a grandma crossing the street. The guides would shout “pole pole!” which is Swahili for “slowly slowly!” So this would be my first tip for you: Take it slow! Statistics show that young males are the least likely to summit because they go too fast. I would have been part of that statistic if I had not read about how important it is to go pole pole.

It was a bit frustrating at first going such a snail pace because I could have gone much faster. But I knew from past experience what altitude sickness felt like and I didn’t want to succumb to it again. The slower I went, the less oxygen I used which meant my body could use more oxygen to acclimate properly. On top of that, I was still sick so I didn’t want to take any chances. After about 6 hours of hiking, we made it to the site of our first campsite at the Machame Huts (9911ft). Our guides set up three tents, two trekkers per tent. The tents were very small but they did the job.

LX6! Day 1 complete

Everyday the cook in our team would make us breakfast, lunch, and dinner. All hot meals! Breakfast is usually porridge or oatmeal with a rotation of juices, sausage, eggs, crepes, and fruits. Lunch and dinner is where we would get soups, chips, pastas, rice, salads, fruits, and other side options. Lana, who is vegetarian, was given specially prepared meals just for her. Much to my surprise, we were very well fed the entire time on the mountain. There was also plenty to go around. The cook did an amazing job. We even had our own personal waiter each day who brought us anything we needed. Such a nice touch :).

Day 2 (Tuesday July 17th)

The next day we made the ascent up to our next stop, the Shira Caves (12,595ft). The terrain was different from yesterday. It was dusty and there were small shrubs all over the place. The day was a bit cooler and there were hardly any bugs. Even though the path was considerably steeper than yesterday, I found this trail to be a bit easier and more enjoyable. I kept the “pole pole” pace going. In addition to going slow my next big tip: Drink Plenty of Water! I cannot emphasize that enough. The suggested amount of water a climber should drink each day is about four to five liters. Every few minutes I would drink a sip of water from my camel-pack. In other words, I was constantly drinking water all day long. It keeps you hydrated and is an important source of oxygen for your body. Every time I urinated (which was quite often), I made sure my pee was crystal clear.

Eventually we made it to the site of our camping grounds for the night. Although we made it to camp, our hike for the day wasn’t over. Our guides suggested that we ascend about a half hour further and then descend back down to camp. This brings me to my next tip: Climb High, Sleep Low. Basically by going up and then coming back down, you are preparing your body for what lies ahead.

Tomorrow is Day 3. Previous hikers told me that Day 3 is the day when most start to feel symptoms of altitude sickness. Better prepare myself, off to bed I go!

P.S. My coughs haven’t gone away yet. At this point, I ran out of cough syrup and I finished my antibiotics. I’m at a stale mate.