Memoirs of an Irish Lad on Kilimanjaro – Tanzania

shira-hut-campThe week prior to the trip is filled with nervous
anticipation, the typical questions before a major event begin to surface,
fueled by neurotic paranoia and the rants of a mind journeying into unchartered
territory, have I done enough preparation? Am I fit enough? How will I handle
life above 15,000 feet (4,570 meters)? An altitude I’ve never been above before,
will I suffer from Acute Mountain Sickness, if so how bad will it be? I’ve had
a really bad cold all week, its two days before the trip and after an
uncomfortable night of coughing and spluttering I decide it’s finally time to
go to the doctor. This morning I wake with a fatigue in my body that most
asthmatics are all too familiar with, that feeling of a night without enough
oxygen to the cells in the body resulting in that feeling of having been
whacked by a herd of bison.

Dr Warman, an incredibly likeable guy, who always seems
happy to see me for some reason, greets me be saying hello, followed by, so
what crazy thing are you up to next? I pause and say.. well actually I’m off to
Kilimanjaro on Thursday.. he sighs and throws his eyes to heaven.. you’re mad
Aiden. My visit confirms my suspicion of a chest infection. Three prescriptions:
Azithromycion (an antibiotic), Methylprednisolone (a lung steroid) and Viqtuss
(a narcotic decongestant). Dr. Warman warns me to be careful of the Viqtuss, it
may make you feel a little loopy, I guess that’s some technical term doctors
are using nowadays to describe a drug, I return to my office feeling somewhat
relieved and ready for an interesting afternoon on the Viqtuss.

I’ve been trying to prepare my body for the climb as best
I can over the past few months, lots of time in the pool, on the bike and running
in central park. I’m hoping the time in the pool will help with oxygen
efficiency especially as we get higher on the mountain. I’ve really been
enjoying the swimming lately and the pool training for this trip has been
doubling nicely for this spring/summer’s triathlon season training.

Kilimanjaro is Africa’s tallest mountain at 19,341 feet (5,895 meters)
and is the tallest free standing mountain in the world. It lies about two
hundred miles south of the equator in the country of Tanzania, the climb will
take us through five major ecological zones each occupying about 3300 feet (1000
meters) of altitude.

I’ve spent the last two and a half years wondering if this
trip would ever happen. After a near hypothermic night on Mount Whitney in California I swore Yvonne would never climb
another mountain. Our climbing group consists of myself, Yvonne (my wife), and
two friends Anne Phan and Mark Streeter. Yvonne is a self proclaimed
“highly-strung, over achieving” Chinese-American girl, who’s greatest sporting
achievements of her youth involved hiking though the many shopping malls of
suburban New Jersey where she grew up. She
has developed an interesting habit in recent years of swearing after every
strenuous hike or marathon, that it was her last, but yet here she stands
attempting to summit Africa’s highest peak.

Mark Streeter is a soft spoken guy originally from the Netherlands. When it comes to Mark, I can’t
help but think about a Zen poem I read many years back, whereby the pupil asks
the Zen Master to tell him about the importance of speech. The Zen Master
thinks for a moment and says… well the frog croaks all day long in the nearby
pond and no one listens to him, but the cock crows once in the morning and
everyone listens to him. Mark’s not a big talker, but you know when he opens
his mouth something meaningful is going to come out of it.

I met Anne Phan, Mark’s wife at a dinner party about a year and a
half ago, through my friend Jay Bauer. I have a theory that you know within about five
minutes of meeting someone if they are going to become a good friend or not.
This was definitely the case with Anne, she’s the type of person you just can’t
help but want to be around, fun, a gentle soul and very upbeat.

My natural concern for the group is the risk of high
altitude problems, the most common of which is Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS). Symptoms include headache,
breathlessness, nausea, dizziness, insomnia and loss of appetite. The only cure
is to descend to a lower altitude. Generally its symptoms begin at 8,000 ft
(2,440 meters). More serious risks are the development of High Altitude
Pulmonary Edema (HAPE), which is an accumulation of fluid in the lungs. Another
risk is High Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE), which is caused by a lack of oxygen
to the brain. This results in the
dilation of arteries in the brain, causing the brain to swell and migraine-like
headaches. Unfortunately these are things you just can’t training for in the
gym or Central
Park.

It’s travel day and I feel significantly better, the
antibiotics and steroids have kicked in, but sadly to say the Viqtuss has not,
where is this loopiness Dr. Warman promised? What a disappointment. I’ve been
asked by many a person recently the question why? Why the hell are you doing
this? It’s a fair and reasonable question, but a difficult one to find an
answer to. Joe Simpson, author of Touching The Void, the book about Simpson and
Simon Yate’s near fatal climb of Siula Grande in 1985, was asked the same
question, his answer was simple.. because it makes me feel alive. The great
Vietnamese Buddhist monk and Nobel peace price nominee Thick Nat Han, who I had
the pleasure of spending some time with many years back, wrote a book entitled
Touching Peace. Well it’s hard to explain, but when I’m on these mountains I
feel like I can touch the peace, whether its running in a ultra-marathon
through the hills of Connemara in west Galway or hiking though the mountains of
East Africa.

I’m glad that everyone in the group has decided to take
Diamox (Acetazolamide), which is a drug designed to help combat mountain
sickness. One of the common side effects is massive and sometimes sudden urinary/bowel
evacuation, something I experienced first hand at 5:00 am on summit day on
Mount Whitney a couple of years back. One moment I am sleeping like a baby in
my tent dreaming of Angelina Jolie, and the next I am standing bare assed
outside my tent in the freezing cold morning air, Wag bag (waste transportation
device) in hand, praying that nobody is off in the distance having a laugh at
me.

There are six routes to the top of Kilimanjaro and two
routes down. Our chosen route is the Lemosho trial, considered the second most
difficult route up the mountain, and usually takes 8 – 11 days to complete. Our
plan is to complete it in 8 days. We are also delighted to be a part of the
Ecco Team Sherpa movement for semi professional hikers, and look forward to
sharing our experience with fellow team members across the world. A special
thanks to Jackie Saborio for convincing us to be a part of the team and
for all the amazing sponsored gear.

The trip to Moshi, our base town, brings us along the
route New York-Amsterdam-Nairobi-Kilimanjaro Airport-Moshi. The highlight of our
day long stopover in Amsterdam is a visit to the Van Gogh
museum, something I’ve wanted to do for years. Seeing so many pieces of the
prolific artists work underneath the same roof is a real treat. I spend most of
my time marveling at his genius and lamenting over the tragedy of his untimely
and self inflicted death in 1890. Later that evening, after the museum, we meet
up with my six foot god-knows-what Dutch friend Menno from Amsterdam, a guy I’ve known since my early days
in New
York, we haven’t seen each other in some time and have a lot to catch up
on. Several pints of Vitamin G (a.k.a. Guinness) later, Menno has an
inspirational moment and decides he wants to give us a guided tour of the red
light district. My slightly fuzzy, jet lagged and now mildly intoxicated brain
perks up at the thought… “you know Menno that’s not a bad idea”.

I’m not sure what surprises me more, the organized
efficiency of the sex trade here or Menno’s expert knowledge of the
neighborhood…. No Aiden, down this alleyway, it’s a little tighter and more
crowded but you wouldn’t be disappointed. Yvonne is quietly amused and smiles a
lot. I’m a little shocked at how young and attractive some of the girls are
here. I’m told many are eastern European, some are beautiful. I immediately
start to wonder how they’ve ended up here on the streets of Amsterdam, underneath a red fluorescent
light, standing behind a glass door of what looks like a small doctor’s office,
trying to turn some trade. The thought remains with me for the remainder of the
evening.

The one advantage of flying to a country (Nairobi-Kenya)
in the midst of major political unrest is that you can expect the check-in line
at the airport to be short and boarding time of the aircraft to be fast. We’re
not disappointed and the sparsely populated KLM Jumbo jet makes for a very pleasant
trip. After a short connecting flight from Nairobi to Kilimanjaro airport we arrive
in Moshi.

Day 1 – To Mti
Mkubwa Camp (Camp 1)

Feb 10th 2008

We leave our hotel for a bumpy four and a half hour
journey before reaching the Lemosho trail head. I’m pretty silent for most of
the trip, simply savoring the flavor of the landscape.

We stop at a village along the way to pickup some
supplies. There are lots of men walking on the main street. I notice that many
are walking in couples, chatting and joking and holding hands. I contemplate
whether there could be such a large openly gay community in this small
Tanzanian village. I’m a little confused. I then remember a friend who worked
in this region a few years back telling me that it’s a custom in these parts for
close male friends to hold hands while hanging out in the streets as a display
of affection towards one another. I sit in the shade eating a mango, sipping
some Fanta, trying to wrap my head around this peculiar but interesting habit.

We enter the Lemosho trail at 6,900 ft (2,103 meters) and
hike through the rain forest zone to Camp 1 located at 9,000 ft (2,743 meters).
I feel a little weak at the start, probably because of the antibiotics I’m on,
but seem to be firing on all cylinders by the end of the hike. At one point
along the trail we come across a large group of blue monkeys swinging from the
trees which excites the group.

We have a large support team with us, 18 people in total,
2 guides, 2 cooks, and 14 porters. The porters are all of a very similar build,
small in stature, lean but strong. Supposedly this is the ideal build for
climbing, where the body’s power to weight ratio is maximized.

We arrive at camp 1 in the early evening, it resembles a
small village of about eighty tents. The scene is kind of surreal, there are lots
of people from all over the world wandering around in the darkness, the night
sky lit up solely by the narrow beams of light from countless headlamps.

I have trouble falling asleep tonight, the African nation’s
cup final between Egypt and Cameroon is on the radio in Swahili in a
nearby tent. I can sense the excitement amongst the porters.

I wake in the middle of the night scrambling for the
bushes. The Diamox I took before going to bed is ripping through my system. I
pee like a race-horse for what seems like an eternity. No sooner am I back to
bed when I feel the need to go again. In the morning I discover that the whole
team has had a similar experience.

Day 2 – To Shira 1
Camp (Camp 2)

Feb 11th 2008

Today’s hike is out of the forest zone, into the heather
zone and onto the moorland zone. The latter turns out to be my favorite ecological
zone on the mountain, very remote, only the hardiest of plant life can survive
there. It reminds me a lot of Connemara in the west of Ireland.

We climb from 9,000 ft (2,743 meters) to about 12,000 ft
(3,648 meters), and then descend to Camp
2 at 11,500 ft (3,506 meters). The climb-high, sleep lower strategy, is a
common philosophy for acclimatization when attempting to summit many of the higher
peaks in the world.

We start out as the last group to leave camp 1 in the
morning, but surprisingly we are the first to arrive at camp 2 in the
afternoon.

The second part of today’s climb is very challenging. I
arrive into camp 2 with a slight numbness in my head most likely caused by the
decrease in oxygen to my brain. Yvonne, Mark and Anne all head off to the outhouse
to relieve themselves. Our lead guide Samuel pulls me aside and ask me if I’d
like to share a joint with him. This must mean we’re bonding, not sure if being
stoned at 11,500 ft (3,506 meters) is such a good idea. Fearing that I may be
insulting some local custom, I politely decline his kind offer. Samuel goes on
to explain to me that 95% of the porters smoke the herb on the mountain. No
wonder these guys are perpetually smiling and seem to exhibit Herculean strength,
carrying their 50-60 lbs loads up the mountain. The truth is they’re feeling no
pain because they‘re all completely baked.

Meanwhile one of our other guides Willie tells me he is
not feeling well, and thinks he’s coming down with a bout of Malaria. I hook
him up with some pain killers from our stash of drugs and he goes to bed.

The night passes uneventfully except for some older
gentleman in a tent nearby breaking the night silence by vomiting for twenty
full minutes at around 3:30am. Ah, the joys of high altitude
living!

Day 3 – To Shira 2
Camp (Camp 3)

Feb 12th 2008

Over breakfast we discuss a heat conservation strategy for
this evening, it’s likely to be close to freezing. The plan involves lots of
layers, hats gloves, air activated chemical hand/foot warmers and a hot water
bottle each of us has brought along for the ride.

Today’s hike is a relatively short acclimatization hike,
bringing us through the Shira plateau, a major wildlife migration corridor in
the Alpine zone of the mountain. We take a break somewhere in the middle of the
plateau, chew on some raw sugar cane and listen to some Dr Dre, I get such a
sugar high, that stuff is potent. We set out at 11,500 ft (3,506 meters) today
and finish at 12,600 ft (3,840 meters).

When we reach camp 3 we make our way to the mandatory camp
registration and check-in point. Registering with the rangers helps them keep
track or who is where on the mountain. Mark and I sign in first and I hand the
book over to Yvonne. She scans the page and gets all excited saying, “look
there’s also someone else here from New York called Keith Gibs (she pauses)…
and he thinks its Valentines day and 2009”. We have a great laugh over this.

Tonight we hang out and shoot the breeze with the porters
as they prepare tonight’s meal. In their broken English they laugh and tell me
I look like Zidane. Zinedine Zidane I ask? Yeah Zezu..I’ve been told I look
like many people in my day but never Zinedine Zidane, I have a tightly fitted
hat on my head, they obviously can’t see my big head of hair underneath. One of
the porters, Alfred, is passing around a plastic pouch of Konyagi, Tanzania’s answer to Irish whiskey. It’s
his seventh pouch of the day and explains that after two you are usually on
your ear. I knock back several mouthfuls and suddenly start to feel a lot
warmer.

Another interesting side effect of life at this altitude
is that the human body tends to pass gas at a much higher frequency than
normal. The reduction in air pressure causes the gases in the intestinal tract
to expand resulting in a higher pressure being exerted on the sphincter muscle,
at the end of the intestinal tract. This condition is known as High Altitude
Flatulent Explosion (HAFE). At sea level the average body will pass gas
approximately 13 to 14 times per day. At this altitude we estimate the
frequency to be somewhere in the region of 40 to 50 times per day.

Day 4 – To Barranco
Camp (Camp 4)

Feb 13th 2008

I’m the first in the group to rise this morning after a
night of heavy sleet and rain.

I decide to go for a walk around the camp and end up in a
remote section watching a group of very large ravens playing in the rocks. They
are everywhere on the mountain, this bird really fascinates me, I’m not sure
why, maybe its because they can live to be in their forties or the fact that
they are supposed to have an intelligence level similar to that of a dog. This
gives them the ability to out wit and out smart the fitter and strong hawk
during the hunt.

I learn over breakfast that Yvonne, Mark and Anne all have
had intestinal problems during the night, I somehow managed to have dodged the
bullet.

Today’s hike is considered the second most difficult day
on the mountain after summit day. The plan is to climb steadily from 12,600 ft
(3,840 meters) to 15,400 ft (4,695 meters) and then drop to camp 4 at 12,700 ft
(3,871 meters).

After breakfast I run into Willie, our guide. His Malaria
has taken a turn for the worse, he does not look well, and has developed a bad
rash on his face. The rescue team is on the way for him, he seems somewhat
relieved knowing that within 24 hours he’s likely to be in a hospital bed
receiving treatment. We wish him well and start the days climb.

We climb steadily for about three and a half hours through
a series of lava rock fields. As we near Lava Tower, our first milestone at 15,400 ft
(4,695 meters), the altitude starts to affect us all. We stop for lunch. For
the first ten mins I feel oddly spaced out and trippie, probably a combination of endorphins plus the
rapid change in altitude. What ever it is, it feels great… sadly to say 10 mins
later the sensation is replaced by a low grade headache and a numbness in my
brain.

We leave Lava Tower to start our descent to camp 4,
almost immediately we are hit by a major hailstorm, which ends up lasting most
of the hour and a half journey down and which turns the trail into a gigantic
waterfall. No one says a word until we catch a glimpse of camp 4 in the distance.
We arrive into camp feeling beaten down and ready to shed our soaking clothes.

I’m particularly proud of Anne and Mark today. As
inexperienced hikers they held up very well. According to Samuel our head
guide, it’s the fastest he has ever lead a group through this day’s hike. This
inspires me for the days to come.

I sleep like a baby. Sometime during the night Angelina’s
back, this time begging me to have her next child with her. I’m not sure why
she always wants to visit me when I’m above 12,000 ft (3,658 meters), perhaps
it’s the Malaria prevention pills I’m on, known for their hallucinogenic effects,
or maybe she simply dreams of someday retiring to the mountains with me.

Day 5 – To Karanga
Camp (Camp 5)

Feb 14th 2008

I hear the ravens above my tent when I wake. I think
they’re after me. They’re figuring out a way to capture me, my pasty white skin
must look mighty tasty to them.

Today’s hike involves first climbing the Barranco Wall, a
near vertical mountain wall 1300ft (400 meters) high, with a narrow trail cut into
it. The climb turns out to be very intense and involves a lot of scrambling
(using both hands and feet to scale certain sections). It takes one and a half
hours for us to get to the top, this one’s not for the faint hearted, lots of, if
you slip you die moments.

While on the wall today I think about my parents back in Ireland, my Mam has a habit of worrying a
lot about me anytime I choose to do anything beyond the norm. I can picture her
on bended knee praying to Jesus, Mary, Joseph and all the bishops for my safe
return down this mountain.

We then continue through a series of ascents and descents
before reaching camp 5 at 13,800 ft (4,200 meters) after a total of three and a
half hours on the trail.

I can sense the cumulative mental and physical fatigue in
the team today. Yvonne has a mini-breakdown in the tent this afternoon and
starts to cry saying that the intensity of the experience is overwhelming her,
even washing your teeth out here is a major effort. I do my best to console her,
after all it is valentines day… After a couple of hours she seems to be doing
a lot better. Meanwhile during dinner Anne is, lets just say, less than her
usual congenial self and is now apparently on hunger strike, refusing to eat
anything the cook puts in front of her.

Day 6 – To Barafu
Camp (Camp 6)

Feb 15th 2008

I wake feeling surprisingly well rested and energized.

Today’s trek involves, what turns out to be, a hike
through a large cloud to camp 6 at 15,100 ft (4,600 meters).

We start out at a pace a little slower than usual knowing
that the sleeping beast lays waiting in the winds for us tomorrow on summit day.
I feel very connected to the mountain today, my normal New York monkey-mind has well and truly
been left at the gates in JFK.

I wonder how my brother Paul is doing back in New York. There is a big part of me that
wishes he was here with us, he would embrace the land, it’s people and the
mountain.

The porters are complaining that we are moving too fast, they
can’t get to the camp fast enough ahead of us to get everything setup. As we
arrive into camp 6 it starts to snow heavily.

Anne’s hunger strike continues, I keep asking her what her
political cause is, but she refuses to answer me.

The plan for tomorrow is an aggressive one, leave camp 6
at around 1:00 am climb for about 6 hours to the summit at 19,341 feet (5,895
meters), watch the sunrise, turn around and climb back down for about three and
a half hours to camp 6, rest for a couple of hours, then continue down for
another five hours to camp 7 at 10,000 ft (3,048 meters).

Trying to sleep tonight is like trying to sleep knowing
that 40 lashes await you in the morning. I’m lucky if I catch about three
hours.

Day 7 – To Summit and Mweka Camp
(Camp 7)

Feb 16th 2008

We are awoken by two of our porters, Ernest and Amani, at midnight with some tea and cookies. Despite
the lack of sleep I feel extremely focused. The only thought that is going
through my mind is that I’m getting to the top of this mountain even if I have
to crawl the last five hundred yards on my hands and knees.

At 1:00 am we set off into the night air,
headlamps guiding us along a very steep trail. The temperature leaving camp is
25F (-4 C). We climb steadily for about an hour and a half, and catch up with a
group that left earlier being lead up the mountain by a team of Masai guides
and porters. They are moving at a pace about half of ours and are continually singing
Masai tribal songs, its quite the scene. The trail is too narrow and dangerous
for us to try and pass. After about twenty minutes our body temperatures are
starting to fall. I start to get frustrated and request that we find a way to
pass. The air temperature is dropping and we need to increase our pace to
maintain body temperature. We find an opportunity about ten minutes later. Soon
after, we reach the 17,500 ft (5,335 meters) mark, the temperature is now 12F (-11C)
and there is a nasty cold wind blowing.

At about 18,000 ft (5,500 meters) I notice the moral of
the team beginning to decline rapidly, I gather everyone around and ask if it
would be okay for me to recite one of my favorite prayers, everyone agrees, I
ask everyone to bow their heads, close their eyes and to put some heart into
the words. We slowly recite the single phrase ten times… “pain is weakness
leaving the body”….

At about 18,500 ft (5,640 meters) I sense Anne really
beginning to struggle, I can hear her panting like a race horse behind me. At
this altitude there is half the normal level of oxygen in the air compared to
sea level. Every time I turn around I can see her sucking down water like she’s
come across a bottle of reserve Irish Whiskey that she doesn’t want to share
with anyone. I try and offer some words of encouragement. I even teach her some
curse words in Swahili that I’ve learned from Samuel, which I suggest may come
in handy during the final assault. Mark has developed a bad head ache and is
also having trouble breathing. Yvonne looks in good shape after some fatigue
about an hour ago and has a very focused look on her face.

We are now around the 19,000 ft (5,800 meters) mark, I
feel physically pretty strong, my breathing is surprising good, but mentally
I’m beginning to feel a little exhausted. I think the three hours sleep last night
is catching up on me, my eyes are heavy and my balance is all-over-the-shop. I
feel like I’m coming home from the pub after 14 pints of Guinness. I think I’m
beginning to hallucinate, I think I see the Virgin Mary ahead or is it Sinead
O’Connor, I can’t say for sure…. A few steps later it turns out to be a slim Dutch
tourist with a tightly fitted hat on her head.

I feel a moment of inspiration from a friend back in New York, Seamus McMahon. He’s the most motivated person I
know and my triathlon training partner. Sometimes I feel this guy should be
studied in a lab and written up in the medical journals under the section on
psychological motivation. He’s a lunatic and occasionally some of his lunacy tends
to rubs off on me. We push on.

I’ve been asked if there’s a way to describe in real world
terms the effort required to climb from camp 7 to the top on summit day. The
only thing I can equate the experience to is getting out of bed at midnight,
getting onto a dark snow covered stairs, and climbing 400 flights of stairs in
about 15F (-10C) conditions with half the normal level of oxygen available to
your lungs.

With steps to go to the summit I turn and look back about
40 yards to see Dennis, one of the guides, holding Anne’s hand and slowly
leading here to the summit. The scene makes me teary eyed, what a symbol of the
power of the human spirit and mans, or should I say, woman’s ability to
overcome adversity under the toughest conditions. Her face is very pale. Moments
later we celebrate with hugs and handshakes.

My Gatorade bottle is now frozen solid and the thermometer
attached to my backpack is reading 5F (-15C). Jaysus its bleedin cold up here
(if I may borrow some vernacular from my Dublin born friend Alison Canavan). We experience a spectacular sunrise as a major
altitude induced headache starts to set in.

After about twenty minutes we start our descent to Camp 6.
About three hours later we reach the fringe of the camp, Amani and Ernest, two
of the younger porters, both about twenty years old are waiting patiently for
us to return. They are armed with a one liter bottle of orange and four glasses.
They are like two little guardian angels standing and smiling as we approach. The
sugar from the orange feels great as it hits my bloodstream.

We enter the camp area and sit in the sun on some rocks
outside our tents, we are completely cream-crackered. We rest for about ten minutes.
Anne starts to cry and can’t handle the thought of another four to five hours
down the mountain, we try to offer some words of encouragement.

We arrive at camp 7 at 10,000 ft (3,048 meters) later that
afternoon at 4:45pm, almost 17 hours after our day began. The
registration tent sells beer which is carried up daily from the gate at 6,000
ft (1,830 meters). Right now I could use some anesthetic, I order a round for
the group. The first few mouthfuls taste like an angel crying on my tongue.

Day 8 – To Moshi

Feb 16th 2008

We wake and descend for about 4 hours from camp 7 to the
Kilimanjaro exit gate at 6,000 ft (1,830 meters), as we arrive we are swarmed
by local men trying to sell us victory souvenirs. There’s a small wooden shack
nearby selling Kilimanjaro beer, I order a couple of rounds for the team and
porters, probably the cheapest rounds I’ll ever buy, 23 beers for $23. Everyone
is relieved to be off the mountain, the beer goes down well. Word amongst the
porters is that I no longer look like Zinedine Zidane, but have morphed into
more of a Jesus-like looking creature. They seem highly amused, and are trying
to convince me that another half-an-inch on my facial hair and I’ll have the
look perfected.

We take photos and return to our hotel in Moshi. We donate
most of our gear to the guides and porters, many of whom are highly under
equipped for their job. Some wearing 10 year old running shoes to climb the
mountain…… gloves, hats, hiking pants, boots, shoes, coats, socks.. I’ve also
brought along 4 more pairs of hiking shoes from the US which are seized upon.

Later that night we hit a local nite club, La Liga, and
party like its 1999. Myself and Mark are the only two white people in the house
and Yvonne and Anne the only two Asians. We are mobbed by the locals. Seems
like everyone wants to hold my hand, male and female.. It turns out to be a
fascinating night and I feel I have a deeper understanding of the culture after
the night. The people here have very little, yet seem very happy and at peace. Maybe
it’s because they’ve so far avoided the trappings of the western world and have
managed to escape being caught in the matrix of materialism. Or maybe its
because, as one person put it, people here live a life based on a simple philosophy
towards their neighbor….your problem is my problem.

We arrive back at the hotel at 4:25am a little intoxicated, ready for
some sleep.
After the Climb

We wake a little hung-over and tired from our adventures
at La Liga and the eight days on the mountain.

Today is our rest day before our safari starts, we decide
to spend the afternoon at a local orphanage caller Amani, which in Swahili
means Peace. We hire a local driver and on the way stop off at the local market
to buy some supplies as a donation: 120 lbs of rice, 40 lbs of soya beans, 25
lbs bag of sugar, 250 bars of soap, 10 tubs of body moisturizer, 9 liters of
cooking oil, t-shirts, 50 school worksheets, 200 writing pens.

We start with a tour of the facility from a volunteer
named Joe, he seems extremely grateful for our donations. There are currently seventy
seven children at the facility. Many are orphaned by HIV, others end up on the
street through abuse and extreme poverty. Joe explains that the center has two
full time volunteers whose job it is to comb the streets seeking out children
in trouble and then convincing them to come to the facility.

We head out to the play area to meet the children. There
is a large soccer field nearby, I suggest a game. We pick teams, shirts versus
shirtless. I am shirtless, I hope I don’t blind any of the spectators with my luminous
pale skin. Yvonne and Anne sit on a hill that over looks the field and play
with some of the younger children. We play soccer for about fifty minutes,
there’s one girl playing with us by the name of Ami, aged about thirteen. She’s
on my team and is a complete ringer, she’s often surrounded by four opposition
players and still manages to find my feet with a forty yard cross field pass. I
have forgotten how much I love the game, I can honestly say that I feel more
tired after the fifty minutes of soccer than I did after any day on the
mountain. I have also forgotten how much energy ten to fourteen year olds have.

We sit with Yvonne and Anne on the side line with about twenty
kids. They are obsessed with my hair for some reason, two are running their
fingers through the hair on my head while another is pulling at the hairs on my
left arm. Another two of the teenaged girls are fascinated with the tattoo on
my back and keep touching it and smiling. Many of the children seem very love
starved, especially the younger boys, the girls seem somehow more resilient.
One of the younger boys, about seven years old, takes a real liking to me. He
has his arms locked around my neck and is holding me very tightly, like he
needs me badly. I still can’t get the look on his face out of my head, nor do I
really want to. As we leave Ami and one of the other girls ask us if we are
coming back tomorrow, sadly we say we are not.

The next day we set off on a four day safari, I feel a
little bored after the first day and quickly come to the conclusion that I’m
not designed to do nature from the seat of a car, breathing in carbon monoxide
and diesels fumes. I need to be outside breathing the air, touching the grass
and dirt.

A special warm hearted thanks to our fantastic guides and
porters for nursing us up this mountain. There’s a special place in our hearts

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for you forever. Asante!

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