Thu, 6 Jun 2002 07:01:00 -0700 (PDT)
(Written while in Arusha, Tanzania)
Dear Friends and Family,
1st month: Spain, Morocco, and pushing a bus through Mauritania to
2nd month: I took a canoe to Timbuktu, then nothing to do in Ouagadougou. Plus a cool week in Ghana.
3rd month: Ethiopia, a fascinating, horrible country. Yes, it really was that bad. Yes, it is amazing. No, you should not go.
4th month: Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania
5th month: Will be Zanzibar, Malawi or
Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana
6th month: South Africa and Namibia (if there's time)
In mid-August I will start the Ph.D. program in statistics at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina.
I'm excited about going back to school. I'm excited to finally have my photos burned onto a CD. So now I'm looking at them, reminiscing. Ah, Africa...
Wait, I'm still here, in Africa, traveling, still so much to see and do. I'd appreciate some tips on what to see further south. Anybody recommend a route from Zanzibar to Victoria Falls? Should I take the train into Zambia, Vic Falls, Matopos, Great Zimbabwe, South Africa? But what about the Okavango Delta? How about a bus into Malawi then Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia, South Africa? I really don't have time for Mozambique.
After Ethiopia I flew in to Nairobi, Kenya. On the drive into the city I saw my first (wild) giraffe, just in a field by the airport. The next day I was on safari, the first of seven safari days in East Africa.
That first day at Lake Nakuru in the Great Rift Valley, I saw an overwhelming number of different animals, and from so close up. Towards the end of our game drive it was like, "Okay, what do we still need to see? Ostriches? Oh, three, over there. Rhinos, yeah already, but no babies. Over there!, baby rhino with mama and papa at ten o'clock!" I saw the antelopes (Thompson's gazelle, impala, waterbuck, hartebeest, eland, wildebeest), jackals, zebras, giraffes, rhinos, lions, flamingoes, buffalo, leopard, crested cranes, storks, baboons, mongooses, and warthogs--just in one afternoon.
Masai Mara Game Reserve, Kenya
The next three days at Masai Mara game reserve I saw hippos, crocodiles, the other antelopes (kudu, topi, Grant's gazelle, dik dik), elephants, blue-balled Vervet monkeys, hyena, vultures and condors, and other stuff probably. I also met some Masai warriors (they're a National Geographically typical African tribe, wearing red blankets/robes, ear lobes in big loops, carrying spears or clubs or walking sticks). Did you know that once a Masai man has 100 cows he gets one wife? For each 100 cows he acquires he gets another wife. And this just in--AIDS used to not be a problem in Tanzania among the Masai. But since the start of the Rwandan genocide Tribunal in Arusha and the influx of whites who need security guards for their houses, Masai have left their families for guard-work, become HIV-infected in Arusha, then bring it back to their villages. So now it's a big problem among the Masai too. A doctor I talked with said she puts the infection rate in Tanzania in the high 20s percent. Almost every African who comes in to her clinic has AIDS or HIV.
On our way out of the park the 4WD got stuck in the mud. No worries, I'm an expert at pushing vehicles. Buses through sand dunes, boats through shallow rivers, Landrovers through muddy tracks.
After Kenya safari (I saw everything but a cheetah) I went to Uganda to see the mountain gorillas. It took me a week and $265 to spend an hour and a half chasing the gorillas down the steep slopes through the rainforest. The gorillas were cool (one pounded his chest to show us who's boss of the forest), but just getting to the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park was more of an adventure.
I wrote a little about that in a "weekly" email. If you're interested in my stories (like Kilimanjaro) ask to be on my weekly or "daily" list. Or, if this is your first time getting an email from me (unsolicited) you must reply to be kept on the monthly list. If I don't know you and you're reading this you can ask to be on my lists. I even have a "girl's list" in which I write about some of the women I've met, but that's not very often.
To get to the mountain gorilla place I bought a bus ticket to the town just before the park. But the bus stopped half-way without warning me. Two pickup trucks (hurtling 60 miles per hour through villages), one tea truck (I sat on top of bags of tea leaves), one private car (hitchhiking), a walking stretch along the road in the dark with lightning and fireflies all around--and the cause of it all--six kilometres by foot past the mudslides down the deforested-rainforest mountain (and back up the valley to waiting pickups). The next morning before sunrise I held on tight for an hour riding on a motorcycle past all the green hills to the gorillas' rainforest home.
I came to Arusha, Tanzania to burn my photos onto a CD, to visit family friend Suzanne Chenault, to go on safari again, and to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro.
Safari was again excellent. The highlight wasn't the black rhinos, the lions climbing in trees or eating a fresh kill, the serval cat (almost like a cheetah), or the mass tons of wildebeest and zebras milling about until something tells them to stampede north. The highlight of my safari to the Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater was my hotel room with a view of the beautiful caldera below. Natasha (with boyfriend Jeremy, Americans, the three of us on safari plus our driver/guide) decided to get sick and stay in her room with the view rather than do a game drive in the Crater. The rooms were our own private luxury boxes. Who needs to be so close to the animals when you have binoculars, central heating, and breakfast in bed?
An unexpected attraction of Arusha was the UN International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. The perpetrators of the 1994 genocide are being prosecuted in Arusha by the United Nations. Suzanne works for the tribunal assisting the judges. I was attending some of the "Media Trial" in which a publisher of a newspaper, the owner of a radio station, and a man from the former government are being tried for inciting genocide through the media. And I've been able to talk with lots of people working here or involved somehow. It is absolutely fascinating. I want to write an email about it, probably to my "daily" list. If you're not on that list but want this one, let me know.
It's all so complex and incredible. The UN is spending $100 million a year, for like 7-10 years. The Tribunal is "incompetent and corrupt" according to a former judge. Genocide can and will happen again. Africa is all messed up.
[June 26, 2003 Note: I still haven't written that email about the Tribunal, and I probably won't until I actually start "writing up" my travels (my goal was to write up my travels by April 2004, but I don't know when I'll have the time or even how to do it. I'd like some tangible output of my travels, like a master's thesis I write about my traveling. These emails are a start.) It has been brought to my attention that my description of the ICTR above is slightly erroneous and not pertinent to the modern tribunal. These emails on my website are just emails, written while traveling in Africa, and are about what I did and what I was thinking. Everything that happens in my emails is true. And to the best of my knowledge, all the facts are correct. If I have incorrect facts, I will try to correct them. The corrected facts are as follows: For 2002-2003 the General Assembly of the United Nations decided to appropriate to the ICTR a total budget of US$177,739,400 and 872 posts. Also, the Tribunal started in Arusha in 1996 and will (likely) finish by 2007. (The Rwandan genocide was in 1994.) Additionally, the comments I quoted from the former judge were by Swedish Judge Lennart Aspergren whose appointment as judge in the ICTR ended in 2000. His comments might not reflect the current state of the Tribunal. More information from the ICTR about the ICTR can be found on its website www.ictr.org.]
Mount Kilimanjaro: the highest mountain in Africa, the tallest free-standing mountain in the world, one of the world's largest volcanoes. People told me beforehand that it was "a walk up" and that "you can do it in sneakers."
Unlike my previous mountain expeditions I did no physical training before this trek. One reason was I didn't think it would be hard. Another was I really had nowhere to jog. Nairobi or even Arusha is not a good place to go out running for safety and 'why is that freak running?' reasons. But I had also heard, "Climbing Kilimanjaro was the hardest thing I ever did in my life." That it was bitterly cold, and that you couldn't eat enough food at high altitude.
So while on safari I ate as much as possible at the lodge breakfast and dinner buffets. At Suzanne's I ate chocolate cake whenever available, even a couple of times for breakfast. I haven't recently seen much evidence of starving children in Africa, but nonetheless, wherever I was no leftovers were ever left over.
I met Jonathan, my trekking partner, at a dinner party at Suzanne's. He was in Arusha visiting Victor who was in Arusha staying with Saleem who was invited to the dinner by Freda (an univited houseguest of Suzanne) because he was playing pool with the German pilot/spy Stephan whom she had a crush on. At the party Jonathan was like, "I hear you want to climb Kilimanjaro too. Maybe we should join forces." So we did and he made all the arrangements. I trusted his judgment.
The start to our trip was delayed because of African reasons (miscommunication and car troubles), so Jonathan and I ate breakfast at the fanciest hotel in Arusha. I didn't like having to pay so much for our 6-day Kili climb, and then more on top for a car to drive us to the trekking office in Moshi, and then paying so much for breakfast at the hotel where we were waiting. But I'm back in the practice of trying not to get angry or upset in Africa. If it's just a matter of money, heck, it's borrowed money anyway. I'm buying peace of mind. Rather, 34 year-old Eric is making it easier for 26 year-old Eric to travel in Africa.
I ate in order to get my money's worth and my future money's worth and even my parents' money's worth. Then Jonathan surprised me and paid for the breakfast. So I continued to eat for Jonathan's money's worth as well: one bread cake with peanut butter, 2 banannas, 2 mangoes, 2 pineapple slices, 8 eggs, a yogurt, milk, fruit juice, 1 sausage (they were gross), 18 pieces of bacon, and a scoop of some disgusting beef vegetable liver stuff.
The two other trekkers who'd be in our group weren't at the office when we arrived. The two Germans were 'at the gate or on the trail' already according to our safari/trekking company (Mauly Tours).
Who was it that said, "Lies, damn lies, and safari companies"? The company figured we wanted to go with a larger group, so they told us what we wanted to hear.
What else did they say? 'There will be plenty of water.' and 'Don't worry, you will like the food.' This is fun. I could make a list:
'The guide speaks good English.'
'Yes, everything will be taken care of.'
That's enough. Our guide Doglas spoke reasonable English. He wasn't very good on distances or even altitudes. And the company was generally pretty good, though of course there were no German trekking companions. Jonathan and I were by ourselves (and our guide, cook, and four porters).
On the ride to the Machame park entrance gate the main company man asked again if either of us were vegetarian. "No, vegan," I said this time. And we all laughed.
The first day's walk was very nice. I had it in my head to go slowly, slowly, so I did. We ascended through rainforest, no rain, just up and up though I could hardly tell it wasn't flat. The first day was literally a walk in the park. I felt like I was just out for a stroll, just to a picnic site in a nice, green forest.
Our picnic lunch was some fruit and cucumbers and tomatoes and bread and margarine sandwiches.
After lunch the stroll continued, gaining lots of altitude but not
noticing it at all. I said to Jonathan, "Hmm, Kilimanjaro is even
easier than I thought."
"Don't say that. You're tempting the fates."
"No, I'm just adding drama to the story."
Our camp was at a beautiful spot in Erica tree cloudforest, just above the rainforest, though it seemed like moorland because all the trees were dead. Fire I think. When the clouds dispersed we could see the big mountain for the first time, way out there, covered in snow. At the other side we could see down to the African plains (and imagine all the animals that were there just fifteen years ago). The third view was of nearby Mt. Meru looking like an island in the clouds.
We were served tea with biscuits and popcorn before dinner, a nice touch I thought. Then hot water for washing. Our tents had been put up by the porters. They carried our packs as well. That's why the hike was so easy. Just carrying my daypack, it really was a leisurely picnic stroll up the mountain.
Dinner came. First was vegetable soup. Hmm, Jonathan was a little worried about the lack of meat so far. "Sale [the cook], what are we having next?" "Food."
"Eric, they had better not have taken your 'vegan' joke seriously."
"Oh, come on. He knew it was a joke. Then he asked if I ate fish and I said 'Yes.' Everybody knows vegans don't eat fish."
Lesson #3: Do not joke with Africans about serious issues. Sarcasm, facetiousness, irony--probably western inventions.
The food came. There was meat. I have not been murdered by Jonathan.
That night I didn't feel well. My stomach was bloated and I had rotten popcorn burps. Oh, they are so gross. All night I practiced projectile burping, blowing the noxious vapors away from my nose and mouth as far as possible. I think the bloating, and the farting, and the burping were caused by my resident colony of stomach giardia which are activated at altitude. Yeck, giardia is so gross and that night, trying not to vomit, I wondered if maybe there was a chance I wouldn't make it to the top.
Altitude effects: No headaches. Nighttime nausea, bloating, and flatulence not necessarily attributed to altitude. Vivid dreams (in addition to Lariam dreams). That night I dreamt I was in a city filled with Peace Corps volunteers. I was just checking out the scene, talking with people. The administrators assumed I was a regular volunteer and were giving me the introduction to the work. I got a little scared, 'Do I have 27 months to dedicate to work in Africa? No. I'm going to grad school.' I mentally checked back to see if I'd signed any papers. Nope, I hadn't signed anything. I really was just getting information, still traveling. They couldn't force me to join the Peace Corps.
That dream changed, but the African town stayed the same. It was the next day and suddenly the town was filled with people I knew from Modesto, California (my hometown). I met nearly half of my sixth-grade class. It was so strange that I checked with the airline if there had been a special charter flight in from Modesto. I woke up or the dream changed before I found out what was up.
Also I got up six or seven times at night to pee. And Jonathan said he didn't sleep well.
The way was easy--uphill but seemed flat--though after lunch I started getting tired and ready to be in camp already. Oh, off the trail bush diarrhea is not pleasant. At least the walking was not difficult.
Everything was all better once arrived in camp. Hot water to wash, two-way perfect views. The top, flat cone of Kilimanjaro shined orange in the sunset. The other Kili peaks mixed with clouds and Mt. Meru floating alone could be the home of Puff, the magic dragon, in the land of Hahnalee.
Volcanic cone of Mt. Kilimanjaro, Day 2
No headaches. I was still bloated and noxious, but I ate my fill at dinner (which says a lot) and had searing stomach cramps a couple times during the night. Frequent urination. Jonathan didn't sleep again.
Vivid dreams. I was on a motorcycle, with Jonathan or somebody else on back, except I wasn't driving. We were being towed by another motorcycle driven by an African man with two cute girls on back. The African kept going faster and faster until the rope (more like a bungy cord) connecting us disappeared. We were still being towed by some other force, and I remember the centripetal acceleration as I leaned into a curve; but since the lead motorcycle was so far ahead our curves didn't always match up with the road.
There was a bridge ahead. The lead motorcycle had jumped into the river, the two blonde girls were already out of the water climbing onto the scree slopes of the riverbank. I didn't see how our motorcycle would be able to cross, so I prepared to jump into the river too. But on the bridge was my grandmother Doris (dead two years). She had been the force guiding our motorcycle. She allowed us to cross the bridge safely and the dream changed. I felt that as long as I was on the mountain, my grandmother would be with me, protecting me.
The benefits of hiking the Machame route instead of the more popular (and supposedly easier) Marangu route is that our trail took us all around the mountain, up and down, and with an extra day to acclimatize.
On the third day the sun rose beside Kili and it was crystal clear as we hiked straight towards it. We went up to 4,600 m (15,040 feet) at the base of the volcanic top, then back down again to 3,900 m.
Jonathan was having troubles because he hadn't slept much the past two nights. I told him I had a slight headache (I did not, I just didn't want him to think he was the only one suffering). My stomach had mostly stopped annoying me. I had no troubles uphill because I wasn't carrying any weight (just 11 lbs of water, plus powerbars, raincoat and stuff) and because we were hiking at a very slow pace. Even at 15,000 feet I was never out of breath.
The afternoon downhill to camp sucked though. We were going as slowly down as up, and I got tired because of it. Usually I prefer downhill to up, but not on day three. 'Slowly, slowly' is a horrible motto for me going downhill.
I think I was doing everything right. I drank 5 litres of water each day, plus tea and water with meals. I stretched at most of our break stops. And I went slowly, slowly, always the last one to arrive at camp.
There were no German trekking companions with us, but seven other people were on the trail and at our camps from another company. We hardly had any contact with them since the guides and porters always separated each group. Each company's trekkers kept to themselves, though we did talk with Ryszard, Polish, college administrator at San Francisco State U. His wife had asked what he wanted for his 50th birthday, "To climb Kilimanjaro."
Ryszard had been a mountain climber/trekker/skier in Europe as a youth. He's still fit, but getting older. So Kili was a now-or-never challenge/lifetime dream for him.
Jonathan, 34, writer/journalist/teacher from Berkeley is traveling around Africa for six weeks after finishing his first book. He's also a big skier and a mountain biker, but this was the first mountain he'd tried to climb. I think he wanted the challenge. Also, he was doing it for the photo of him at the Top of Africa to place on his desk when he becomes a school principal.
Eric, 26, traveler/writer/journalist/tour guide/anthropologist/archaeologist/wildlife biologist/statistician/student is traveling around Africa for six months. I've been trekking in many places. I've climbed a couple mountains before, but nothing more strenuous than Half Dome in Yosemite. I wanted to climb Kilimanjaro literally because it was there. That's what I figure African travelers do. If you come to Tanzania you got to go on safari, climb Kili, and hang out in Zanzibar. I had no desire to be at the highest point of Africa. I wasn't out to challenge myself. How could I be challenged when, 'Kili is a stroll. You just walk up the mountain'? I thought a Kili climb would be fun, an interesting experience.
I said to Jonathan, "This is really much easier than I thought. It's
no more than just a walk. I think I'm underestimating the mountain."
"No, I want to. I'm doing it on purpose. Adds drama."
The last night, before Jonathan crashed unconscious after taking a sleeping pill, we had fifteen minutes of 'therapy session.' I wanted to allay some of his fears if I could, and comfort him by making up some fears of my own. Really, the trip so far was even easier than I had underestimated (except for the popcorn burps). I guess that's what happens when other people carry my pack.
Jonathan slept well and felt 'like a new man' in the morning. We hiked slowly, slowly up a steep wall, then fast downhill. Our guide Doglas had laughed at us the day before at our slow downhill pace. I found it much easier when we descended quickly.
We lunched at a 4000 m river valley. Just over the cliff was the vast African plain, dollopped with merengues of cloud. It was the last available water for that afternoon of hiking, evening at Barafu Camp, Night 4 midnight ascent of Kili, and descent to Night 5 camp. My sister Angela had spread the word that there wasn't enough water for that last stretch (even though she had taken a different route up Kili). So I voiced my concerns to guide Doglas.
'You don't need much water for the ascent,' he retorted.
"No. I want lots of water. I want more water. I want enough water."
"Two litres is enough."
"No. I want to carry five litres to the top."
Doglas laughed. "You can't drink five litres."
Who the hell did he think he was? Who did he think I was? Clearly I would carry five litres to the top of Kilimanjaro and clearly I would drink it all. "I am taking five litres of water to the top. But I also want enough water for this afternoon, and for when we get back to Barafu Camp."
My anger rose. I'd been warned about not having enough water. Here I was making double sure we'd have enough, and Doglas was unreassuringly reassuring me, 'There will be plenty of water.' Plus he was laughing at me for thinking I could drink the same amount of water on Day 5 as I had on Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, and Day 4.
I stuck to my guns and Doglas procured an extra 4.5 litres of water. I didn't think it was enough, but there were no more water containers. What to do? This is Africa. I wasn't going to die of thirst.
On the afternoon uphill I felt a little tired, fatigued. I felt as if I had just eaten a big lunch and I wanted to take a nap. I can't imagine why. All I had was two thick pieces of fried bread (like French toast) with jam, piece of fried chicken, fried breaded bananna, fried potato chips, and some tomatoes. I left the cucumbers (I don't like cucumbers and why do they serve them to us for breakfast, lunch, and dinner?), then ate Jonathan's fried bread and some of his chips. He'd lost his appetite for fatty foods. I hadn't.
Also as we climbed up the rocks through alternating misty and clear air, I felt maybe a slight headache. And occasionally I was out of breath, but that was only after I'd sucked big gulps of water from my Platypus (like a camel back, a great invention to make it easy for a hiker to drink water, through a tube, from his pack) or filled my mouth with powerbar while still climbing up.
I was again the last person in camp (4600 m, 15040 feet). It was about 4 or 5 pm. I was a little nervous. Jonathan and I had to prepare everything for the 11:15 PM wakeup for our midnight ascent of the mountain. Also I wanted to get some sleep beforehand.
Dinner was gross, saving the worst for last, but I had a huge plateful, and then all of Jonathan's fish sticks. I don't know if altitude causes me loss of appetite or not. I wasn't hungry (even for the five pieces of bread with three bowls of soup starter course), but I was definitely able to eat and continue eating. When eating is a job, I'm very good at it. Like, if there's a reason for me to fill up on food, I will, gladly. And what I'd heard from Angela was I should eat lots. She climbed Kili two months before I did and said it was the hardest thing she'd ever done in her life.
Jonathan had also heard from a number of people that 'Kili was the hardest thing I've ever done.' That worried him, because even though he was having a harder time than I for the first four days, it wasn't nearly that hard for him. He wondered how difficult the last seven hours, no sleep, freezing nighttime ascent would be.
My own version of 'Into Thin Air':
Three and a half years ago I went trekking to Mt. Everest in the Nepal Himalayas. After about two weeks of walking (with my own pack, but no food or tent) I was at the last lodge 5150 m. I had already climbed the hill Kala Pattar which gives maybe the best views of Mt. Everest. But I was sticking around to go the next day to Base Camp, because that's what I had set out to do from the beginning. Going to the base of Mt. Everest was the whole reason I would spend four and a half months in South Asia.
And I couldn't get there. I had giardia, fever, full-body fatigue as I trudged through knee-deep snow over loose rocks and boulders. I could see where Base Camp was, and I headed for it. But I was too slow, too tired. I really couldn't make it and I couldn't imagine how I wasn't able to make it. Fever--big deal. Body aches--who cares? Frozen diarrhea in the morning, yes, ass-sicles, poopsicles, whatever you call them, call it disgusting, but it is still not a reason not to be able to walk a few miles, mostly flat, through snow to the base of the highest mountain in the world.
I had set a turnaround time for myself. If I wasn't at Base Camp (or at least as close as five times spitting distance) by 2 pm I had to turn back. 2 o'clock came. I was nowhere close. I didn't want to die on the mountain, so I turned back.
It was a horrible feeling to return to the lodge having failed in my objective. Failure is an option, but it doesn't feel good. I curled up in my sleeping bag on the bench by the yak dung fire and read my trekking guidebook again. I saw that I had taken the wrong trail. Hallelujah!
The next morning I set out again. No troubles. Celebrated Thanksgiving Day 1998 with some of my grandmother's fudge (from her recipe, mailed to me in Asia).
I had done what I came to the Himalayas to do, and I was finished with the mountains. I had had enough. I just wanted to return to Kathmandu to get on the internet and eat walnut cake. Sixteen days up, just four days (and a plane trip) down.
My own version of Climbing Mt. Kili:
I rested for about three hours, and slept one of them, or less, but I wasn't worried. A few years ago I learned the trick that even if I have restless sleep (or none at all) before a big hike, I'm okay. I've never been sleepy or tired for a big hike once I've started hiking. So I don't worry about not sleeping, and I end up sleeping much better.
Wide awake, alert, and all bundled up, 12:17 AM, I set off behind Doglas and Jonathan. We had an assistant guide, John, bringing up the rear. I don't know where he had been hiding all these days, and I was glad for an assistant (in case one of us had to turn back, the other could continue, guides being required for all stretches of the Kili hike).
Ten minutes later I stripped off my borrowed fleece, my raincoat/windbreaker, and my borrowed gloves. Twenty minutes after that, in fear of sweating, I took off my wool hat and unzipped my legs on my outer pants.
To keep my water from freezing, I took small sips whenever I thought about it. And further up the mountain I drank whenever I thought about thinking about water. Even if I had just had a sip (through the platypus tube), if I had any thoughts about water I had to drink again. If I thought about thinking about thinking about drinking water I did not drink. I had to put some limits, not to be obsessive about it.
Jonathan and I were asking our guide how high we were. And sometimes
he told us something lower than the previous time we asked. Jonathan
accused Doglas, "You're messing with me?"
"You're messing with me. You're intentionally telling me false altitudes to help me up the mountain, right?"
"But it's not helping. You're saying we're lower and going slower than we really are."
"Are you telling me the truth?"
'Psst,' I interjected. 'He is messing with you, but it's not on purpose. We're past 5000 metres now. We're making good progress. Doglas just doesn't know altitudes very well.'
We were going slowly, slowly. I wanted to play a word game with Jonathan, but he didn't want to talk. So I thought about my hands. The one gripping my borrowed ski pole was cold, but the one in my pocket was warm. I found I could stand the freezing hand almost indefinitely because I knew all I had to do was switch hands and put it into my pocket. Or I could have put on one of my double pair of gloves.
However, once the hand started to hurt, and the pain became annoying, I switched hands. I did this for I don't know how long, up and up the mountain.
And even though Jonathan didn't want to play word games with me, I played with myself. How many one-syllable verbs (in the infinitive form) could I name which were only verbs? Write, eat, lurk, shirk, read. I thought of more, but really they're not so easy to come up with. The cold and the altitude had no noticeable effect on my thinking ability, at least I don't think it did.
I asked Doglas how high we were again. I shouldn't have asked, but I wanted to know, even though I knew he didn't know. I mean, I thought maybe he would know some landmarker, or maybe there were some signs which I had missed.
"Don't think. Just walk," came the reply.
"Really, how high do you think we are?"
"No, I will. I'm a thinker. I want to think, and I'm going to continue to think. I have to in order to keep my brain warm. See, the more I think the more blood goes to my brain."
3 AM on the side of the mountain is no time to get upset with your guide. So I wasn't upset. Easy. But I just then realized why I have such an aversion to guides: I am one myself. I guide people up Half Dome in Yosemite all the time. I guide other travelers around cities or museums even if I've never been there before. I just know stuff and I like edifying and guiding people. So I hate having to have people guide me. Who needs guides anyway? Why do I need a guide? But at least Doglas was pretty good. He set a very slow pace which I gladly followed.
4 AM: I asked Jonathan if he wanted to listen to a story. He said, "No."
I was going to tell him how the lights ahead of us (three American trekkers, and Ryszard, plus their sets of guides) reminded me of a Native American myth I learned in Y-Indian Guides. The headlamps of those who had passed us (we were going slowly, slowly because it's a good idea and Jonathan was struggling, I didn't mind because it meant I was never out of breath.) Basically these Indian dudes are chasing one Indian boy or chief, but he's at the top of the mountain with his light and the dudes with their torches have gone around and around the mountain so many times that their uphill leg has grown shorter than the downhill one, so all they can do (maybe they turned into mountain goats) is go around and around on the same level, with their torches, night after night. The boy at the top is the North Star. The dudes are all the other stars, always rotating night after night in a circle around Polaris.
The stars were nice and bright. I saw several shooting stars. I tried pointing out Scorpio to Jonathan, but he really was too far gone to listen to anything.
As we climbed higher I put on my rainjacket and my gloves. I had a perfect balance of being just cold enough to not worry about sweating. I was cold, but happy for it. I still carried two more layers in my pack.
I think on the way up I ate five powerbars. I'd get out of breath while stuffing those or granola bars and chocolate in my mouth, and trying to sip water at the same time. But I'd swallow and breathe again and be fine. Just step by step up the scree zigzag slopes, easy as Sunday morning.
At about 5:30 AM color started appearing from the east. I was at the highest point I'd ever been. John, the assistant guide started singing "Kum Bye Yah". I joined in.
"Someone's singing, my lord, kum bye yah.
Someone's singing, my lord, kum bye yah."
Come by here, my lord.
"Someone's singing, my lord, kum bye yah.
Oh, Lord, kum bye yah."
Man, look at that sunrise! I've only seen this from an airplane.
"Someone's laughing, my lord, kum bye yah.
Someone's laughing, my lord, kum bye yah."
Jonathan! Oh-ho man, we're almost there!
"Someone's laughing, my lord, kum bye yah.
Oh, Lord, kum bye yah."
The sunrise was something beautiful.
Come by here, my lord.
"Someone's crying, my lord, kum bye yah.
Someone's crying, my lord, kum bye yah."
Come by here, my lord. Look at your sunrise! It's a rainbow, from black to orange, yellow, blue, indigo, black.
"Someone's crying, my lord, kum bye yah.
Oh, Lord, kum bye yah."
I am crying my lord. Come by here.
"Someone's dying, my lord, kum bye yah."
Now I'm bawling.
"Someone's dying, my lord, kum bye yah."
People in Africa are dying all over. There's war, genocide, starvation. Hungry children with puffed-out bellies. Government officials just steal money. Elephant poaching, habitats shrinking. UN officials steal money. A quarter of the population is dying of AIDS. Lord! Come by here!
"Someone's dying, my lord, kum bye yah."
My grandmother is dead. Lord, come by here!
"Oh, Lord, kum bye yah."
"Come by here, my Lord, kum bye yah"
My grandmother is here right now!
"Come by here, my Lord, kum bye yah."
Look at this sunrise. Gasp, it's so beautiful.
"Kum bye yah, my lord. Come by here."
I'm almost at the top.
"Oh, Lord, kum bye yah."
I had to step off the trail. I couldn't cry and sing and walk and look at the sunrise at the same time. Or think about my grandmother.
Doglas said, "Don't cry."
Jonathan said, "No, it's okay." He was crying too!
"Yes, even grown men can cry, Doglas," I said. And I cried. We were almost at the top. The sunrise was so beautiful. I was at the top Africa, but where was God? My grandmother was with me. Come by here, my lord. Don't you see someone's dying? They're dying all over and there's no hope. Things in Africa are getting worse. Come by here! Lord, kum bye yah! Yet there was this wondrous, divine sunrise. And I had made it to the top.
At the top:
Did anyone really think I wouldn't make it? Come on! Kili is butt-ass simple.
All along the way we had spectacular vistas. Each day was better and the top was the best of all. Mt. Meru was sticking out from the blanket of clouds. The crater and glaciers at the top were awesome. My water tube was frozen, but otherwise no problems. No headache. No fuzziness. I had done everything right. Plenty of food, plenty of water, plenty of clothes. I had a wonderful time.
Marathon down the Mountain:
Jonathan had been struggling though. He often doubted if he could make it. At the sunrise he realized that he would make it. All the doubts and fears and hardships went away with his tears. I didn't know he had been crying when I started my bawling, but I think we had built such a connection already that I did know it, and I joined him in celebration and sadness and relief.
Jonathan had climbed Kilimanjaro and was happy about it. He decided he had had enough of the mountain. No more sleeping in tents. No more gross food. He wanted to be back in Arusha, between clean sheets, eating real food. He proposed we descend the entire 14,700 feet in less than twelve hours.
So we did. The first part of the descent was the steep scree slopes. I just skied down, as if the loose stones were soft powder. Jonathan stumbled and fell often. He was completely exhausted.
Yet he wanted to do in one day what we'd taken four days to climb. I knew how he felt. Once you've achieved your goal you want to get the hell out. So I waived my veto right and we went down. Through rocks to moorland to Erica tree cloudforest, through meadows, into forest, down to tropical rainforest.
Downhill was easy, especially when we went fast. Conversation was very fun. The last two hours through the rainforest, in the dark, with headlamps (I appreciated the symmetry of the day), were not fun. Doglas said the road was 50 metres beyond picnic site #1, which was just after the river. River came, picnic site #1, no road.
Finally road (I had already decided to get out of expectant mode, thinking the finish line was always only just around the corner) after maybe hours. Then two hours on the road even though Doglas said the car would drive down the road to pick us up. I knew better. I think Jonathan did too. I don't know what he was thinking by the end. It was a very long day.
In the 24 hours of Day 5, Jonathan and I hiked 17 hours and slept 1. We were in Arusha for the last 2 of those hours.
I was worn out by the end, and had to revise my "Kilimanjaro is just a walk in the park" statement.
It was a walk up Kilimanjaro and a marathon down. I was very tired at the end, but it was not nearly the hardest thing I've ever done in my life.
I was only a little sore the day after. I had no blisters. My toenails were not black-and-blue from the descent (I had clipped them the day before, like I said, I did everything right). No sunburn. No weight loss. Only chapped lips.
Tomorrow I'm going to Zanzibar,
West Africa I:
M email ,
West Africa II: M email , D&W , Photos
Ethiopia: Both M&W emails , Photos
East Africa: M email , D&W , Photos
5th Month: M email , D&W , Photos
South Africa: M email , D&W , Photos