Body and mind

While we (particularly I) got off pretty lightly when it came to adverse health effects climbing Kilimanjaro, we did suffer a little bit.

Our noses: Mine bled more or less from Day 2 onward. The extremely dry air gave both of us chapped, sore and peeling nostrils.

Our lips: Even the 30 SPF Blistex was no match for the combination of blazing sun, wind and cold. Chapped, sore and peeling lips to match our noses.

Our heads: David suffered more here with that back-of-the-head ache characteristic of altitude sickness, but I was not completely immune. We took the occasional ibuprophen and followed the advice of Sylvester to continue drinking water and wait for rest and food to do their job before turning to meds.

Our necks: Looking down to mark my steps in the dark on the summit combined with carrying a pack for days on end gave me a pretty stiff neck by the middle of Day 7. Our final night, David felt a twinge while washing his face; it resulted in intense pain that travelled from his neck to his temple. It came and went for several days, but he bravely self-medicated with ibuprophen, beer and lying in the sun in Zanzibar.

Our bladders: Drinking water is one of the ways to prevent altitude sickness. One of the mild symptoms of altitude sickness is frequent urination. Looking for suitable rocks and bushes behind which to relieve myself occupied more of my time on hikes than I care to mention.

Our feet: Eight days sans shower resulted in predictably stinky tootsies. I also found the rapid descent hard on my toes – although not as hard as a half-marathon in soaking wet shoes and socks…

Our balance: David complained of mild dizziness early on and was downright stumbling on the last day. I managed to seem almost coordinated (which most of you know I am not) in comparison.

Our minds: As a wise mountain-climbing woman once quoted to me: Your head quits before your body does. For the most part, we met this challenge with nary a negative thought. There is a lot of satisfaction in learning what your mind can lead your body to do.

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Out of Africa

…And back into the land of McDonald’s and free WiFi. And winter. All good things must come to an end, I guess.

We’re in Amsterdam now. Funny thing is, that you can actually get a Quarter Pounder here. I wonder if it’s just an airport thing. (This from David…)

We had a 3 a.m. Tanzania time wake-up call (Well, actually knock on the door.) and have been slowly working our way back home since. We still have another 11-1/2 hours before we’re scheduled to land at Pearson.

Our last couple of days in Tanzania were wonderfully relaxing — will post further details and lots of photos when we’re back in the Landing.

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Stone Town

“Let me tell you something about people from Zanzibar,” the guide for our walking tour of Stone Town says. “They are lazy. To walk more than 100 metres to buy something is too far.”
The capital of the island is home to about 13,000 people and it seems about half of them are in the business of selling something to their neighbours. Every third door in the buildings, all made of older stone and pulverized stone mortar or newer bricks and cement and covered with plaster, he explains, is a shop. Many more people sell their wares on the street to passersby (locals and tourists) or door-to-door to the homes: milk, roasted corn-on-the-cob, bread, ice cream. We see one man with a hand-operated machine making sugarcane juice. He rotates a wheel, pulverizing the canes, along with lime and ginger root, to make a drink.
People buy the remainder of their food items at a large central market. We see every manner of fresh fruit and vegetable, large and small fish, cleaned as you wait, and the spices — cloves, cinnamon, black pepper, saffron, nutmeg — for which the island of Zanzibar is famous.
In addition to the food vendors, we see people at work in other traditional occupations: carving doors and chests and building dhows (small boats used to transport poorer people and goods to the mainland).

Zanzibar has a rich and varied history. It’s location as a central point for both the spice and slave trade brought conquerors of various nationalities to the island from the 16th to 20th centuries. The culture has taken something from each one: the Portuguese, the Indians, the Arabs, the English, the Germans. Stone Town’s famous doors — intricately carved from heavy wood and decorated with brass or iron accents — follow either the Indian or Arabic tradition. An old fort was built by the Portuguese. The only Anglican church in the town, whose inhabitants are primarily Muslim, was built by the English following the abolition of slavery. It location is the site of the former slave market. We go underground to the cramped, unlit, poorly ventilated hovels where the slaves were kept before sale — 75 women and children in one small room and  50 men in another. Some, our guide tells us, died of suffocation there.

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The luxury

Strange to be in Zanzibar after more than two weeks in the Kilimanjaro region.
As Caroline remarked our last night in Springlands, it is amazing how a place that seemed so strange, so foreign just days before can seem so comfortable when one returns. That’s how it was with Springlands and Moshi. On the second and third visits, it felt like returning to a second home: the routines familiar, the people welcoming but in an unassuming way.

The Bluebay Resort has a much more Western feel, both in its accommodations and the attitudes of the staff.
It’s lovely: a well-appointed room with a television (the first we’ve seen in Tanzania), a larger-than-king-sized bed and a rain shower that you don’t have to flick a switch first and wait for the water to heat. The meals are varied and plentiful: baked goods, fruit, eggs, bacon and more for breakfast. Wonderful local fish, as well as a selection of other meats (lamb, beef, duck, chicken), vegetable and rice dishes for dinner.
We soak in the relative opulence but after a day and a half on the beach, plus a several-hour-long visit to Stone Town, we are ready to return to the mainland.

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On top of the world

Well, we did it.
We watched the sun rise from the summit of Kili on Saturday morning. The only thing tougher for us than summitting has been finding open wifi connections, so it has been very difficult updating this blog and checking email. Hopefully all’s well back in the land of ice and snow, and nobody’s had to try to get through to us…
Meant to post the day before we left, but were dealing with more pressing issues. See post “These boots were made for walking…
We’re now at the Blue Bay Resort in Zanzibar, feeling a little spoiled by the luxury and a little sad to have left Moshi.

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Day by day

I did a little bit of journalling, with good old-fashioned pen and paper, during our eight days and seven nights on Mount Kilimanjaro. Here are the highlights, day by day.

Day 1

We leave Springlands Hotel at 9 a.m. Tanzanian time (or about 20 after). Our ramshackle jeep is full — nine of us, including our guide, Sylvester, two other hikers (who we later come to know as Caroline and Sarah, two funny and friendly young women from the U.K.), their guide and Zara staff to check us in at Kilimanjaro National Park. Our gear is lashed to the roof. We learn later that the porters have taken tents, cooking equipment, etc. to the base of the hill the day before and camped there overnight.

Our driver sets the tone for the ride when he narrowly avoids the last of a herd of goats crossing the road mere minutes from the hotel: “Holy shit!” he exclaims, interrupting his own pontifications (or so they seem to me) in Swahili. He continues a constant and enthusiastic stream of largely one-sided conversation throughout the drive, mostly Swahili with the odd English expression thrown in: “We stop. African toilet.” (Long-drop, squat outhouse infested with wasps.) “African road…bumpity, bumpity.” (An understatement.) “Yesssss!” (When he finally finds the gear he wants after several tries.) “Bump, bump, bump ieeya!” (Over a particularly rough section of road.)

Our first day of hiking is in stark contrast to the drive: relaxing and peaceful. Sylvester lets the other hikers, guides and porters go ahead and sets such a gentle pace David thinks at first he might be playing a joke on us.
It’s a new way of hiking for us: polepole, following our guide’s short, sure steps. At first it seems we are stumbling in our efforts to slow down and match his pace.
We walk up and down slippery red mud slopes through dense lush bush. We spot brightly coloured flowers and colobus monkeys, which bear stripes similar to skunks and enormous fluffy furry white tails.

When we arrive at Big Tree Camp, our tent is up, we have warm water for washing and a table is set for two with a snack of sweetened popcorn and tea. Nice.

Day 2

We will hike today in two parts: four hours, then lunch, followed by an additional three hours.
The terrain is much the same: trees, plants, flowers, dirt path. Our pace is slow and steady. The porters, who have cleaned up the camp after we set out, pass us along the way, with greetings of “Jambo!”
We reach our lunch destination with not too much effort. On a rocky outcropping, our table is set (!) and Joseph (our “waiter” and assistant guide) serves us a hot lunch of chicken and fries, as well as fresh vegetables and fruit and tea. (Although wonderful coffee is grown in Tanzania, few people here drink it.)

After lunch, we encounter several light rain showers and some hail. One heavy downpour takes us by surprise and though we put on jackets and pull out rain covers for our day packs, by the time we think of our rain pants, we are already wet.
But the rain doesn’t last long and the quick-dry pants are nearly dry by the time we reach 3,500 metres and our camp.

It is warm and sunny when we arrive, but darkness and cold come quickly. There is frost on our tent before we go to sleep. I would guess the temperature to be about -5 Celsius.

Day 3

A harder day than we anticipated.

The early morning is a joy. We are getting used to walking at the pace Sylvester has set for us. At times, are quiet steps are completely in sync as we walk single file through grasslands.
Later, we take a side hike (helpful for acclimatization and a fantastic view we are told if the mountain was not blanketed in thick fog). We climb the highest point on the Shira Plateau. Sylvester explains to us that the Shira peak was once higher than Uhuru but collapsed during a volcanic eruption.
We also walk past one of about five helicopter landing pads on the mountain, as well as a crazy one-wheeled stretcher and a road. There are many options for people with altitude sickness to leave the park and seek medical attention.
The hike takes its toll. We arrive at camp for a very late lunch tired, hungry and headachy. David, in particular, has this back of the neck/head pain that Sylvester confirms is due to the altitude.
Following lunch, I meet our guide on a quick stroll around the camp. “No more walking today, Lee Ann,” he admonishes gently. “Only rest.” Good advice.

The sky clears, as Sylvester predicts, around 6 p.m., affording a fantastic view of the mountain.

Day 4

Another long day, but one that boosts our confidence.

We take a scenic route, with lots of stops for photos of the wondrously enormous senecio kilimanjari flowers and roberia that grow only on Kili, a waterfall and picturesque valley as well as lunch.

A misunderstanding the night before on my part means David and I have not brought enough layers for the very cold acclimatization hike planned for the afternoon. Sylvester hunts through his pack (unlike us, he carries everything he needs for the trip himself) and finds shirts and sweaters to loan us both.
We also learn to “walk like a Tanzanian” and stow our poles to ascend with our hands in pockets to keep warm. We reach the peak of the Lava Tower (4,600 metres) surprisingly quickly. Sylvester lets out a whoop to mark our achievement and we are a little shocked to have found ourselves there so easily.
Little to no problems with the altitude today. The acclimatization seems to be working.

When Sylvester stops by during dinner to tell us of tomorrow’s plans, we offer him some of our meal (which are tasty, generous and usually more than we can eat). While we eat and drink tea, we tell him a bit about life in Canada. Our description of ice fishing, in particular, has him laughing and shaking his head. He is positive he is the first Tanzanian to learn about this crazy activity!

We are at a busier camp tonight as Machame (possibly the most popular route on the mountain), Shira and our route, Lemosho, converge here.

Day 5

Our day begins with a hands-and-feet scramble up the Baranco Wall. Despite the crowds, we really enjoy this 1-1/2-hour part of our day. It is a change of pace from the gentler inclines we have experienced so far.
The traffic on the trail is thick (total gridlock on occasion) and we pause many times for porters and faster climbers.
A few times we find ourselves annoyed by the other groups. We have become so accustomed to Sylvester’s pace, we three fall into a natural rhythm at times that is slow, steady and quiet, like a meditation. It can be disrupted by someone following too close, banging poles or huffing and puffing.

As we near the campsite, we pass a ledge that is naturally protected from the rain by a large overhang of rock. Sylvester explains to us that before 2000 (when the Tanzanian government stepped in) porters used to sleep there and, if you were late cleaning up after the hikers’ evening meal, you wouldn’t get a spot. Near other camps, porters (including Sylvester himself) slept in dank caves, without sleeping bags, only sheets or thin blankets. Only tourists, he explains, had tents. Although the government has forced tour companies to provide tents to porters, they must still supply their own sleeping bags and other items such as rain gear and footwear. We see porters wearing everything on their feet from holey high-top runners to workboots to dress shoes, although many do have hiking boots.

We arrive at camp (3,900 metres) at about 2 p.m. and after a late lunch set out for a short acclimatization hike to 4,200 metres.
Sylvester is confident the pace we’ve established over the past five days — slow, steady walking for seven to 10 hours with few short breaks, easy breathing and easy on the body — will carry us to the summit.
His words and a lack of altitude sickness symptoms have us feeling good.

At dinner, we learn that Joseph will be accompanying us to the summit in case one of us must turn back. (He will descend with that person while Sylvester accompanies the other to the summit.) He is a friendly man who pays careful attention to his work and we are happy to have him with us for the final haul.

Sylvester teaches us some Swahili slang. There is no direct translation for most of the words, they are largely interchangeable but friends will toss them back and forth in a lengthy greeting that really comes down to: Hey. Hey. I’m cool. Yeah, me too. Mambo. Mambo vipi. Shwari. Poa. Babkubwa. We also learn Nico vishuri comma simba: “I’m feeling good — like a lion.”

Day 6

A short five-hour hike takes us to Barafu, our base camp.
Five of the mountains seven trails converge here to summit and the scene is barely organized chaos. The sights (hundreds of people, dozens of tents), sounds (porters moving rocks and banging in tent pegs, suffering hikers retching, excited ones talking loudly about their chances of the summit, cooks and guides calling to their staffs) and smells (not-so-fresh outhouses, rotting garbage and cooking) are overwhelming.
I am unable to sleep through any of this during the afternoon and go to dinner a little frustrated.
Sylvester lays out the plan for the summit. Joseph will wake us at 11 p.m. We will have tea and biscuits, put on our layers and pack the bare essentials in our day packs. At 11:30, we will start our hike.
We return to our tent around 7:30 p.m. to rest. More disruptions, including a woman mistaking our tent for hers and opening the door, prohibit me from getting any actual sleep. When 11 p.m. arrives, I am, for the first time, really worried about my chances for reaching to top.

Day 7

Day 7 really begins at the close Day 6, when we nervously gulp down a cup of tea, pass out handwarmers and start our ascent.

It is dark and the path is steep, but we maintain a pace in keeping with what we’ve done over the past five days. Sylvester leads, David follows, then me and Joseph. We are not far along when David starts to feel the affects of the altitude. He complains of a headache and fatigue and wants to rest frequently. My only complaints are a sore neck (from looking down to mark my steps in the dark on rocky terrain while carrying a pack) and the cold. Sylvester pushes us on after short breaks. Several times, David makes weaving, unsure steps ahead of me. My worry causes me to reach out to steady him. During one break, Sylvester looks at him and says, “No sleeping, David.” Another time, Joseph, who has witnessed the stumbling where Sylvester has not, bends down before a seated David and looks him in the eyes. “David,” he says, in voice much more serious than his usual tones, “how are you doing?”
He pushes through it and by the time we reach Stella Point, a milestone of about 5,700 metres, at 6 a.m. he seems much more alert. After hugs and photos, we push on to Uhuru point, the summit at 5,895 metres.
We see the sun rise as we hike.
We pass glaciers in shades of white, green, blue and pink. They look close enough to run to, but when Sylvester puts their height at about 30 metres, we know the scale of the mountain has skewed our perspective.
We meet our friend Caroline who is on her way down. She is with her assistant guide, Bongo, as guide Jacob remained with Sarah who was feeling very ill and in the end did not summit. Bongo is practically jumping up and down when he greets us and offers congratulations. Caroline admits to feeling really awful (probably because Bongo’s enthusiasm resulted in too fast of a pace) but is pleased to have reached the top.

When the summit comes within view, I feel a rush of emotion. If there wasn’t a group gathered around the sign, I would probably run the last few metres. Instead, I keep in line with the others at our slow, steady pace and together we reach the top. More hugs, more photos and many words of thanks and congratulations, then we turn around.

The descent takes just over three hours, compared to the seven-plus hours to ascend. At times we descend dozens of metres in seconds, sliding through scree, hoping not to catch a larger rock on the way. By the time we reach base camp, we are covered in a layer of brown dust.

We rest for an hour, eat lunch and then pack up for another four hours of hiking to our final campsite, Mweka. Fatigue keeps us quiet for the early part of the journey, but a simple question from Sylvester about the number of political parties in Canada, launches a long conversation that touches on everything from fat-cat Tanzanian politicians to education, to health care to the Bloc Quebecois.
We arrive at camp in good spirits despite a very long two days and the man in charge of registration seems to sense our mood. “Tea?” he asks David, offering his own cup and looking for a reaction. He gets a stammering, “Hapana asante (no thanks).” and Sylvester begins to laugh. He explains in Tanzania people share plates, cups, bowls, meals with one another without discretion. Although the man would have been happy to give David a sip of his tea, his offer was really in fun.
A few words in Swahili from the man get Sylvester laughing again. Spotting the whistle on David’s backpack, he wonders if maybe he is a football (soccer) coach. We had already told Sylvester our whistles were to summon help or scare away bears while hiking. “Tell him about the bears,” I tell Sylvester. He speaks in Swahili with the word bear thrown in. “Oh, run away,” the man motions. “Ndio,” I say and we laugh again.

We sleep early and well that night in preparation for an early start on our 3-1/2 hour final hike.

Day 8

We are tired but cheerful for the final stage of our descent and spend much of the morning with Jacob, Sarah and Caroline.
We reach the end of the trail around 10 a.m. and Springlands Hotel shortly after 11 a.m. We buy Sylvester (and Joseph who shows up later after returning some equipment to the office) a Coke, give him the used boots and clothing we had brought for the porters as well as tips. He fills out and signs our official summit certificates. We exchange addresses, as I have promised to send Sylvester some maple syrup (another bit of Canadiana we told him about) as well as photos. We bid our goodbyes.
We spend much of the rest of the day with Sarah and Caroline (and then Jacob as well) relaxing, eating (altitude suppresses the appetite so we are all ravenous) drinking beer and chatting. When we realize we have only five hours before we must be up to catch the airport shuttle, we hug goodbye and head to bed.

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These boots are made for walking…

So what are they doing sitting in a tented camp in the middle of the Serengeti?
The first (and only?!) real snag in our trip was of our own making.
The most important items to a successful climb up Kili are our boots — so we were determined not to let them out of our sight. We wore them on the plane and packed them with us on our safari rather than leave them at the Springlands hotel outside of Moshi with other gear.
Unfortunately, when we were packing up our bags to leave the tented camp, David’s boots got left behind. He didn’t notice until the following morning when were at the Highview Hotel several hundred kilometres away. To say we started to panic would be an understatement. (To be fair, I should also point out I left a shirt in the tent as well — blame it on the lack of lighting, maybe.)
While David was trying not to be sick to his stomach, I ran down to the hotel parking lot to find Papu. He immediately contacted Freddy at the camp, who said his staff had found the boots shortly after we’d left and he had been trying to reach us to let us know.
Both men began making calls to find a way to get David his boots, while we tried to enjoy our last day of safari at Lake Manyara.
By the time we reached Moshi in mid-afternoon, a plan was in place. Another jeep with safari-goers would bring the boots (and the shirt) as far as Arusha and Papu would drive out to get them and bring them to our hotel.
He bid us goodbye with a promise to return either later that night or first thing the following morning, before we left for Kilimanjaro at 9 a.m. All through dinner, we kept an eye on the gate. No sign of Papu. Neither one of us slept well that night.
We woke early and watched the gate and our watches: 6:30, 7, 7:30, 8, 8:30. While I was checking out, our young hero found David. “I think you’ll be happy to see these…” he said.
Again, an understatement. Many thank-yous and handshakes later, he wished us luck on the climb and we found Sylvester and climbed into the jeep headed to the start of the Lemosho route.

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