Sunday, January 29, 2006

Africa blog part 2: Kilimanjaro Climb -- Day 3

Day 3: Shira Hut to Barranco Hut (12,800’)

Hike time: 5 hrs, Elevation change: 100 M
Estimated distance: ?, Final elevation: 3900 M

From Shira Hut hike to Lava Tower (15,000’) and then proceed to Barranco via the Great Barranco Wall. This route offers panoramic views of Kibo through Karanga Valley as we hike high and sleep low, dropping back down to Barranco after lunch. Today’s hike will take most of the day Barranco campsite located on elevation of 3950m.

View of Mt. Meru from Shira Camp in the morning

It got so cold at night that we woke up to slightly iced over tents, long ice crystals on the ground, and frozen rocks. The morning view -- amazing -- with the summit view on one side and Mt. Meru on the opposite side. It seems that so far, the mornings are clear and as the day grows on, the clouds roll in.

View of summit from Shira Camp and our frozen tent

Ice crystals at our campsite

The day started off with a somber note as Francesca had to go down due to medical reasons. She was kicking ass and taking names up to that point, a true character of a person to have around, and a trooper. God does that girl crack me up!!! Shira Camp was the closest camp to vehicular access, so if you had any problems up to now..this was a good place to descend from. It was really sad to see her have to go. She was such a good sport though, and gave me and Sean her iodine and neutralizer tablets (since ours were in the check in luggage). She was, in essence, our lifeline because water is *the most important thing* to have.

We started off the hike in the same direction where we came from the previous day, crossing the little valley and creek, then continuing on in a different direction and ascending. The scenary, dry grasses, short shrubs, and boulders everywhere -- I believe it is called the moorland. Again, I was carrying about 30 pounds (that's almost 30% of my body weight).

Sara, Deanna, and me beginning the day 3 hike

With each day, I take it more pole pole (slow slow). Porters passed me up, saying "pole", which means something to the effect of "I'm sorry for your suffering" or "I'm sorry to make you wait". And some would pass me saying "pole pole" which means slow slow. I would smile and say, "Asante, pole pole" (Thank you, slow slow) or "Ndiyo, pole pole" (Yes, slow slow).

On day 2, I had learned some slang Swahili on my many breaks while porters were passing me. I greeted almost everyone as they passed, saying, "Jambo" (hello) and smiling. One of the guys, a young guy probably in his 20's, stopped and taught me "Mambo" (what's up), "Mambo poa" (a response to mambo -- poa means 'cool'), and Mambo vipi (an informal, 'and you?'). He went on like a superhuman, while I took it pole pole. We caught up with each other later, and he taught me "Poa kichizi kama ndizi" (cool as a banana). And those were my new Swahili sayings. On another break, he taught me a hand thing -- make your hand into a fist, touch fists, put your fist to your heart, and then to the sky. It means peace, love, and something else I forgot. Whenever I saw him, he always made me smile.

With my new sayings in hand, I greeted the passing porters with "Mambo". Quite a few of them were really impressed that I knew a bit of Swahili. And then they would start talking to me in Swahili, and I would have to say a quick, "Sifahamu. Meme nafahamu Kiswahili kidogo" (I don't understand. I understand Swahili a little). Many would break out into English and say that I spoke Swahili really well. If they asked me something in English where I could respond in Swahili, I was eager to practice. We shared smiles and laughs on the way up the mountain. Porters, the backbone of our expedition, and truely amazing men.

I fell back to the end of the group with Madhu, Teresa, and Godlisten - an assistant porter. He was able to borrow a radio off one of the porters, so we had music for a little bit (see, it's good to be pole pole). I ended up picking up the pace a little bit as the clouds started to roll in and the terrain grew rockier and rockier.

Did a bit of hiking on my own. Sean caught me sticking my tongue out at the camera

The main group found an area full of boulders and designated it as a pit stop. I finally got there, joined Sean and hung out with Nickson. We hung out there for a while, rehydrated, peed (lots of big boulders around so great spots), ate snacks.

Nickson at the rest stop

And a few minutes later we were hiking again. The terrain grew even rockier, the plants grew sparser, and the cloud engulfed us at that point. We were ascending quite a bit so there was even more reason to take it more pole pole. Piles of arranged rocks marked the trail (easier to find the trail if there is snow) from here on. Nickson kept me company for much of the hike. We talked about travel, about mountaineering, about Kilimanjaro. Then we arrived at rest stop #2, where the plants grew even sparser and the ground turned to small rocks with large boulders interspersed.

Sean and me at rest stop #2, cold and in the clouds

It was getting colder, cloudier, and more bleak. I broke out the windproof gloves that I had luckily packed in my carry on bag. At that point, I think we were somewhere above 13,000 ft. Severe altitude sickness had not set it (thankfully), and I felt fine except for a little, manageable headache. Starved for food, I ate half of a Luna Bar to hold me over till lunch.

Breaktime was over and we headed off once more. I took it even more pole pole at this point, as I was starting to feel the weariness that altitude puts on you. From rest stop #2 to the lunch stop was a long hike. I did most of it alone, passing up Cristee and Adie every once in a while, and then being passed up by them. It was surreal, cloudy, like I was hiking on another planet. A little pathway surrounded by boulders, some covered with lichen like plants. The cloud was so thick which added to the desolation and the feeling of loneliness. So many thoughts went through my mind. "Am I actually going to make it to the summit?" "What have I gotten myself in to?" "Wow, I can't believe I'm doing this!" "So what did *you* do for New Years?" It's like I was going mad. Talking to myself in my head to keep myself company and keep myself sane in this surreal landscape.

Me hiking on the desolate trail up to the lunch site

Not too far from the lunch site, I caught up with Sean and Cindy. I grew wearier and wearier, and started to really feel the effects of altitude as my headache grew worse and my breath labored. We scrambled up and down a few boulders, hiked on for a bit longer, were greeted by a few of our porters hiking the opposite way, then continued on to find the lunch site.

First things first, bathroom stop. Then Sean and I joined the rest of the crew -- some lunching outside, some in a tent. Of course the tent was full so we lunched outside. My appetite grew weaker because of the altitude. Jonathan said that we were at 14,700 feet in elevation. And I felt like shit. I ate what I could, which was not much at all.

Post luch, we had two options -- 1) descend to camp or 2) hike to Lava Tower which is at about 15,200 feet (for better acclimatization). I wanted to do the Lava Tower hike but I knew it was a definite no-go at this point because I needed to descend from the lunch spot.

Sean joined the Lava Tower hikers, while I joined the descending group. Of the descending group, Ullrich was our guide. They said it would be a short hike...well, long story short, it wasn't. It took us, in general, longer to get to camp than it did the Lava Tower hikers. We took a really interesting path that took us down a pathway that looked more moonlike and foreign than any of the hike thus far, and on slanted land. The pathway descended down slippery scree, past a view of a waterfall and a huge rock wall. We ascended as well, then descended, and kept that pattern for a while. We ran into a porter of another group -- a group of Italians had to descend off the mountain, but the porters went on to the campsite. Their porters had no idea of their descent, until our group sent one of our porters to tell them. We ended up pretty high up. Ullrich pointed out Lava Tower and Arrow Glacier to us. Not too much higher than we were. But higher nevertheless.

Then we saw a large group of hikers on the mountain who looked like specs. It was the Lava Tower group. The '45 minute hike' turned in to some 3 hours or so. The Lava Tower group was trucking, descending. It looked like they found an easy route down the mountain, while we struggled with long steps off of rocks -- literally, I had to sit down on the rock and jump down a bit in a few spots. They trucked on to camp, while a few of us took it very pole pole.

The scenary

The scenary changed as we descended down into the valley. Rocky slopes on either side of us with interesting flora that looked like it didn't belong. We descended further and further into the valley until we finally reached camp.

Trees on the way to camp

I was tired, weary, suffering at that point. Someone, I can't even remember who, pointed me to the right camp spot. We were at Barranco camp, which was busy because it was a point where several routes joined. There were no good pee spots (tents surrounding everywhere), so I used the undesireable long drop. Then I rested for a while, took off my beanie to find my hair had gone wild and stuck out straight after 3 days of not showering.

Even though we had descended quite a bit from the 14,700 feet we were at, I still felt like shit. My headache was strong, I felt a little dizzy and nauseous. Sean and I went to the dinner tent soon after resting. I sat by the door because I was not feeling well. The sounds of the people, clanking, people grabbing for the thermos in front of all compounded and made me feel even worse. I took my diamox and my doxycylcen. God, I felt like hell. Jonathan had given me a coca tea bag, but there was no hot water. I had a little bit of soup, hoping to feel better. Only to come to a point where I could not take the sounds, the smells, the environment anymore. I stumbled back to my tent which was the furthest away, trying to avoid the other tent lines and boulders in a dizzying state of mind. It felt like I wasn't there. I made it to my tent, crawled in, laid down with my feet hanging out of the door, hoping the nausea and the headache would go away. I felt a little better, peaceful, quiet.

And then I rushed out of the tent, got down to my knees, and threw up the soup I hoped would be good for me. I threw up and threw up and threw up until I dry heaved multiple times. Tears streamed down my face as it hurt so badly. My enemy called altitude sickness had struck like it had struck me in Ecuador a year and a half ago. I am all to familiar with it. One of the assistant guides came to my side to ask me if I was okay. I snuck back into the tent and Sean came over. Jonathan brought me a cup of coca tea. Feeling the pain, I cried. I was for sure, contemplating going down the mountain in the morning if I didn't get better. And the way I was feeling, I didn't think it would get any better.

Donovan came over and talked to me. He said that if I descended from Barranco camp, it would be a very difficult, steep descent. If I could hang in one more day, the descent would be easier. But the thought of ascending any more didn't sit well with me, especially after seeing Barranco wall itself...

I called it an early night, stuck the earplugs in, and slept...

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Africa blog part 2: Kilimanjaro Climb -- Day 2

Day 2: Machame Hut to Shira Hut (12,300’)

Hike time: 7 hrs, Elevation change: 800 M
Estimated distance: 6km, Final elevation: 3800 M

From the Machame Hut we cross the stream onto its west bank and follow the path up the steep rocky ridge crises-crossing a few times before reaching Shira Hut at the base of a semi-circular wall of rocks. We will have ascended 900 meters (3,000’) in 5-7 hours and about 6 km (3.72 miles) of walking.

The peak from our campsite

We awoke to see Kili looming over our campsite, had breakfast, then packed up camp to head off for day 2. It started off as a beautiful sunny day, yet a little brisk in the morning. After the tents were down, our duffels stacked in a pile, Nickson introduced us to the assistant guides and porters. We had quite a huge expedition...I don't know the actual numbers, but I'm guessing about 28 hikers and 70 porters? Yes, an expedition. Day 2, I was carrying about 30 pounds of gear with 3 liters of water, fleece, poncho, rain gear, beanie as essentials amongst other things that I carried every day.

The hike started off from the campsite ascending up a well worn dirt trail. I let the fast group go and joined the not-so-fast group, where I belonged ;) We hiked through similar heather flora as the first day's hike's end. For a few hours -- shorter trees, bushes, more exposed to the sun. We ascended quite a bit, porters passing us all the time. I hiked with Sara for a while, but then I took more breaks and went at my own pace. Although I was slow, Nickson had commented how I looked like I was a climber. I told him that Sean and I were rock climbers at home...not mountaineers, but rock climbers.

We came to a clearing where the path turned to an exposed rock. If you turned around, you could see Mt. Meru in the distance and the green treelined slopes of Kilimanjaro surrounding us, descending. The clouds were starting to form.

Me getting to the exposed rock part of the trail

Sean and me at a resting point

I met up with the rest of the group at the exposed rock section of the trail. We rested there for a while, some continued on while Sean and I rested more. Diamox taking its, action, it was time for a pee break, so Sean and I went to find a very scenic pee spot. There was a boulder that was perfect for girls because it had a u-shape in it -- a bit exposed as the trail was higher, but hidden because of the shape of the boulder. The view from that spot was beautiful -- the slope of Kili descending, clouds rising up to us and above us. We then relinquished our pee spot to other hikers who thought it was a good idea and place to go as well.

View from the pee spot - clouds rising

We hiked on through landscape that changed to less trees, shorter bushes - some flowering, grasses, and boulders everywhere. Boulders that looked like they wanted to be climbed. The path grew rockier and rockier, steeper in some sections with class 3 climbing/scrambling involved. Sean and I hiked with Brian and Alexa for a long time for the lunch push. They are an American couple who are working as teachers at an American school in Saudi Arabia, and lived and climbed a bit in Mexico. Really cool and fascinating people.

Me getting ready to do some class 3 scrambling

The boys hiked on faster, Alexa and I fell behind. Dustin, a quiet assistant guide, kept our pace. We caught up with the boys and a few others at a set of boulders. A well needed rest stop as the trail continued on upwards. We were to have our lunch stop near the top of the area we could see.

View from the resting point on the boulders -- those specs are people going up the trail

Making our way up was pretty grueling. Most of the group was at the top, hanging out on the boulders. Sean and Brian took speed, I hiked on my own, and Deanna and Alexa were a few minutes behind me amongst a few others.

Silhouettes of people at the top, near the lunch stop

I finally met with the others after a little more class 3 scrambling, where we rested while the lunch tents and tables were being set up. The clouds rose quickly and the climate grew colder. I did some serious intra-hiking stretching to keep my muscles limber. Then it was time to chow down...

Mark, Lara, David, Jen, Deanna, Court, and Dillon in front of the lunch spread

One lunch tent was set up, so some ate in there, while the rest of us ate outside. Pasta, more pasta, chicken wings, and pineapple. A few minutes into lunch, the weather took a turn -- it started hailing on us. The porters quickly set up a second tent, where the rest of us quickly ran into to hide from the elements. As lunch went on, the hail lightened up to going away completely.

We continued on hiking, mostly across a ridge, ascending and descending here and there. It started sprinkling on us, so I took out the poncho I borrowed from the Porters Assistance Project only to rip it while putting it on my head. Now only if I had the duck tape which was in the check-in luggage...I had trouble hiking with the ripped poncho as I couldn't see the steps in front of me, so I took it off and put it back in my pack, and just used my waterproof shell jacket.

The hike to camp was very rocky and slick with water pooling from the rains. Cindy and I kept each other company, with Deanna catching up every few breaks. The terrain grew rockier and rockier, with larger steps to be taken up and down. We passed by a rock ledge that would have proven as excellent shelter from the rains if they were to get more intense. But the rains were not too bad -- enough to form small trickling waterfalls down the rock ledge reminiscent of how Reimer's would be if it rained at Sex Canyon. We got to a point were Donovan and Zamo were waiting to assist hikers. It was a rocky traverse with a small cliff drop off to the left side. I'm sure if I hadn't been climbing for the past year, it may have been scary for me, but it was an easy traverse for me now.

We hiked on further and further, and then caught up with Cristee and Adie who stopped to admire the view. The campsite was visible and within range, so there was no real rush. Cloud filled mountain ridges and aretes created a backdrop for the Shira campsite which was just beyond a small valley and creek we had to cross.

Shira campsite

Sean arrived first, so he picked out our tent. First thing we did was start laying out our gear to dry, which is difficult when you're practically in a cloud. We started to dig a moat around our tent just in case it rained. Digging a moat around a tent you'd think is a simple task. Try doing it at over 12,000 feet and you'll think differently.

Sean at our tent

There was a bit of time between getting to camp and dinner, so we all hung out and what not. Sean watched my door at one of the 2 adjoining long drops (it was missing a piece of wood from the door). And yes, it was my first time using one of those to crap in to. Picture this...a wooden shack with a wooden floor with a square cut out of it. Luckily, no one had missed. The smell makes me want to vomit, so I try to avoid them. And man, what a leg work out!

Later, Ronald, our character-filled meal server, gathered the porters and assistant guides into songs and dances. They did the Kilimanjaro song and a few other songs about the mountain. It was a festive mood. Here we were, we made it through day 2. Still far away from the summit, but about 7,000 feet in elevation closer than we were from the Machame gate, our starting point.

Emmanuel and Ronald lead the songs and dance

View from Shira camp - clouds rising to our level

We filtered water, had dinner, then called it a night. It was frigid., freezing out. I hated the thought of having to walk out in to the woods to take a piss, so I devised a plan...I dug a hole between the tent door and the outer fly, build a dam out of dirt. This was my pee hole. If I had to pee in the middle of the night (which was guaranteed on Diamox), I'd just squat as low as I could, unleash, then cover it up with dirt. Who'd know? And that's just what I did. Worked excellently.

7,000 feet in elevation closer...there she is

Afro girl is born?

Sarah had invited me to join her at Skate World because her friend was DJ'ing last night, starting at 11pm.  We devised a plan to dress of those occasions...why not?  So I broke out the afro I wore for Halloween and silver shiny pants that I haven't worn in over 5 years (you know, gotta keep them for special occassions like this...).

Sean and I met Sarah, Stephanie, Michael, and Miles up at Skate World.  At first, it was one of those moments...I need to be drunk to start out (being dressed up and whatnot).  At first, I felt silly, but then I was like, screw it, I like dressing up and well, like the attention too.  :p  I got a lot of looks at first (another, I need to be drunk for this moment type of thing...).

We strapped on our old school style 4 wheel skates on.  I don't think I've done since 5th I was wobbly to start, but got the hang of it.  Everyone loved my costume.  I got so many complements from girls and guys, and even had 2 girls that wanted to slap my ass...well, I let em.  It's all in good fun.  I met one guy, Nick, from Seattle, who said that when he knew he was going to the skating rink, he wanted to see girls with afros and shiny I made his night, I guess.  Two people asked if my afro was real...good to know I can pull it off!

Anyways, we had so much fun last night.  May have to do it again one day.  And maybe wear the afro and some funky clothes and create my alter ego, afro girl...

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

~ I'm falling...down Kilimanjaro ~

Gotta love it when someone captures your finer moments...of course, I can make fun of myself.  Here's a series of pictures my boyfriend took of me when I fell down on Kilimanjaro.  He's lucky I was laughing about it :p

Help, I've fallen, and I can't get up...

No broken bones, I'm okay.

Back on my feet.

It was actually funny...on the 7th day on the mountain (the last day, descending quite a bit), I fell on the trail (rocks slipped under my feet).  I yelled an "oh fuck!" stayed on the ground for a while as my legs and trekking poles were completely splayed out.  At first, Sean thought I was hurt, but then I bursted out laughing...and out came the camera...

Oh, and that wasn't the only time I fell on the mountain.  Just the only time it was a Kodak moment.

Monday, January 23, 2006

I wanted new clothes... (not Africa related)

I wanted new I decided to make a shirt.  I used Simplicity pattern 4887 - D.  It looked cute, only 4 pieces to cut out, simple enough.  The material I used was strechy material I bought a long time ago that has been sitting on my shelf begging to be used.  Skill level: Very easy.  And well worth the few hours spent making it...

Don't ask me about that pose, I'm just messing around (and I'm still super dark from Africa)

Back view of shirt

What do you think?

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Africa blog part 2: Kilimanjaro Climb - Day 1

Day 1: Machame Gate to Machame Hut (9,300’)

Hike time: 7.5 hrs, Elevation change: 1200 M
Estimated distance: 10km, Final elevation: 3100 M

Early pick-up at hotel and a hour drive to Machame gate (5,400’) where trekking formalities take about 30 minutes. From the gate, we begin our trek following an easy track for the first hour through the dense forest. The path continues to follow the ridge, rising steadily with several steep sections. The gradient eases slightly as the forest merges into heather covered ground we will reach Machame Hut in 10 km (6.2 miles) after a 1,200-meter (3,936’) ascent and 5-7 hours of walking.

The view of Kili from the Keys Annex

The morning of the 27th, we were to report downstairs in front of the Keys, ready to go in the morning. I walked out of my room to find a beautiful view of an almost cloudless Kilimanjaro, looking massive and intimidating, and waiting to be conquered. We brought our bags downstairs. Sean and I had our backpacks for the hike, his duffel bag, and a huge duffel bag that I borrowed from the Kilimajaro Porters Assistance Project. Our pile to leave at the hotel consisted of a white plastic garbage bag that Madhu had given to us the night before. Luckily, she had room in her 'stay at hotel' bag and let us stash our (little) goods in there.

Our group of 28 hikers piled tightly into two busses with gear stashed in the back. We rode to a store, picked up bottled water, then went on our way to the Machame Gate. Along the main route in between Moshi and Arusha, near the Kilimanjaro Airport, is the turnoff for the Machame Gate. The gate was quite a ways from the main route. We ascended about 2700 ft in elevation on the dusty, bumpy drive up past the village of Machame and then on to the gate.

These estimates are a crock of shit!!! Take estimate and add a few hours!

Once we were parked, a few of us girls ran for the hills to find the bathroom (it was a *really bumpy* ride!), a concrete squat toilet with concrete blocks you stand on. The doors had locks on the outside but not on the inside, so we took turns guarding the door for each other. Apparently, we learned later that the better toilet was downhill...

We waited at the gate for a while for all the formalities to take place. Each one of us received a sack lunch in a black plastic bag. Our gear was unloaded, porters sorted through the duffels and started taking the loads.

With me on this first day, I carried essentials of 3 liters of water, a poncho, and a rain jacket amongst many other things. In total, about 25 pounds of gear.

Then we were off. We walked through a green set of gates, one by one, as Donovan took a headcount. The trail here is a well maintained dirt pathway with runoff ditches on the sides and intersecting the trail. I was pretty surprised as I thought the trail would be more crude. But then again, this is only day 1...

We hiked through very lush, green forest. Many ferns and trees covered with moss, the soil moist. It was humid and warm. At first, the hike was not too bad. A definite inclination, but nothing too severe.

I somehow managed to be at the very front, hiking with Freddy, our lead guide. Freddy has been on the mountain many times. He started as a porter, then worked his way up the ranks to assistant guide then to guide. He said that the program to make it to a guide position is tough and a little over half the people who start the program end up qualifying to be a guide. He has been all over the states, more places that I have been, and said that he wants to find a mountaineering/outdoor job in the states. I think I impressed him with what little Swahili I was able to regurgitate. He taught me a few things like, "My name is...What is your name?" He also practiced numbers with me.

As the day went on, I fell further and further back in the pack. Climbing in elevation...oh hell, I didn't want to wear myself out on the first day!

We stopped for a short lunchbreak along the trail. It started to rain. Luckily, we were not completely exposed on the mountain -- canopies of trees took the direct hits of the rainfall first. However ponchos were necessary. After taking a pee break in the woods, I got out my rain gear before sitting down to eat lunch. Somehow the cap on the orange drink in the lunchbag broke, so everything was a sopping orange flavor. Needless to say, I didn't eat much lunch.

Then we hiked on. Once identifiable people in the group became mysterious under their ponchos and rain jackets. Except for Sherrie, that is, who could be seen flying past me with her shiny emergency blanket over her pack and head. Smart idea!

We stopped at one wooden bathroom along the trail. There, we saw the abuses that happen to porters. We saw one man carrying a *HUGE* backpack, so big I swear I didn't think they made them that big, stuffed full. I'm sure it probably weighed about as much as I do. Seeing that made me sick inside. Donovan and Zamo talked to the guy, asked him what company he was with and whatnot. Next to the porter (he may have been an assistant guide?) were two gaunt Russian girls barely wearing any clothing and only carrying a lunch sack. Literally, one girl had a keyhole cut in the front of her shirt and you could see the bones in her chest. The Russian girls were talking to Donovan and Zamo using them as an interpreter, since they could not speak Swahili and the porter could not speak English. They wanted to know where their other porter was because he had all their gear. Donovan was nice enough to lend one of the girls his rain jacket for the time being.

What we heard of that story was that there was a group of the four Russians who had booked a cheap tour up the Machame Route. They were promised a lot on the tour, but not given much (only 2 porters for 4 people). Ignorance on their part, but hopefully a lesson for anyone who reads this -- you get what you pay for. Their guide never showed up.

As the day went on, the group became more and more spread out and the trail steeper. It was soon evident who was of the fast group, and who was not. I definitely was not. The trail turned to steps, steps, and more steps. We were, after all, climbing about 4000 feet today. This ain't your mama's Inca Trail!

From then, I decided to take it pole pole (slow slow), look at the flowers, admire a waterfall, and take a lot of pee stops. I started taking Diamox the night before, which acts as a diuretic as well. Towards the end of the hike, I hiked with Francesca, who is such a hoot. She is such a hilarious girl. Oh, and did I say my savior? I was craving some powdered sugary drink mix of some sort (already sick of water and it's only the first day!), and she gave me a pack of Gatorade. Oh, it was heavenly.

The way we knew we were nearing Machame Camp was that the scenary was to change. Finally, the trees were shorter, the path more exposed. Ahh...finally, the group!

We rested by the hut for a while. Then everyone had to sign a log book. Only a little more hiking to the campsite, which being set up for us. We picked out our tents and got settled in before our pre-dinner popcorn snack.

Camp was at about 10,000 ft and it was getting cold fast.

This picture was taken from my favorite pee spot at the camp...what a view!

When we were in the dinner tents, someone said that you could see Kilimanjaro (meaning the peak), so we we all rushed out to check out the view...and there she was looming over us.

In the evening was water duty. Everyone filtered and treated their water for the next day. Since Sean and I didn't have iodine tablets (they were in the checked in luggage), we used my Katadyn ExStream water filter to filter our water. A pain to do for 6 liters of water at a time!

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Some Tanzania pics are up! =D

Here's my flickr link...

Tanzania photos

My flickr photo page

I took about 1500 pictures, so it'll take me a while to sift through and load them up, so keep tuned!

As per special request: My Kilimanjaro Gear List

I haven't really had the chance to blog all about the trip yet (working on it, guys!),but I've gotten a special request for a mountain gear list.  This one's for you, Lanny!

You can find my original gear list at this link.  I was so prepared for all sorts of weather on the mountain.  Look at that list, and look at all the gear listed!!!

In reality, most of that equipment was in my checked in duffel bag which was conveniently lost by the airlines for 3 weeks.  I finally reclaimed my baggage in Nairobi *on my way home*. 

Lesson learned...if you're going to climb a mountain, pack the most essential items with you in your carry on because you never know when it'll be your turn for the airlines to lose your luggage!  With me, I carried on the following items on the plane:

Mountain Essential Gear:

  - REI Aries women's 35L pack

  - Thermarest ProLite 4 sleeping pad

  - Katadyn ExStream XR water bottle with filter

  - Marmot Teton 0 degree sleeping bag (avg)

  - 2 knee braces

  - Mountain Hardwear Ascent Ventigaiters (gaiters)

  - lightweight waterproof outer shell (light rain jacket)

  - insulated camelbak

  - The North Face Allure 600 fill down jacket

- Petzl Tactikka Plus LED Headlamp

- Smith Toaster polarized sunglasses

Clothing (or lack there of):

  - 1 Patagonia capilene mesh tank top with shelf bra

  - 1 cotton tee shirt (wore it on the way down there and believe me, not mountaineering clothing!!!)

  - 1 bra

  - 1 pair lightweight, quickdry travel pants (wore it on the way down there)

  - 1 pair snowboard/mountain pants w/gaiters

  - 1 pair midweight long underwear bottoms

  - 3 pairs Wigwam merino hiking socks

  - 3 pairs Fox River liner socks with X-Static (gotta love that X-Static!!!)

  - 7 pairs underwear

  - 1 homemade polartec balaclava (extremely essential)

  - 1 pair homemade polartec mittens

  - 1 pair REI kids windproof gloves

The Only Footwear I had (and damn good boots at that!):

  - Lowa Renegate Goretex hiking boots (wore every day until the end of my trip when I bought a pair of Batman Ocean sandals from a market in Zanzibar)


  - baby wipes, deodorant, toilet paper

  - toothpaste, toothbrush, dental floss

  - hair ties, compact mirror, Q-tips, face lotion, hand sanitizer

  - SPF 45 sunblock, Off with deet, SPF lip protectant

Medicine/First Aid:

  - multivitamins, iron pills, levaquin, immodium, doxycyclen (anti-malarial), acetazolamide (generic diamox - for altitude sickness), benadryl, sudafed, tylenol, tums, glucose tablets

  - hydrocortizone cream, triple antibiotic gel, assortment of bandaids, gauze pads

  - athletic tape, alcohol/iodine prep swabs, blister treatment bandaids, moleskin, athletic bandage, visine, first aid guide, needle, tweezers


  - earplugs, alarm clock, watch, batteries, camera, pens, energy bars, one gear strap, homemade day bag


As you can see, I had it stripped down to the bare bones.  Actually, less than bare bones if you look at the clothing list.  When I arrived in Moshi, that's all I had.  Word got out amongst the group, a group of 28 people who proved to be extremely generous.  Mind you, I'm tiny and a difficult fit (because I'm so small/short).

From the following people, I was able to borrow the following items (which I am ever so greatful for):

- Madhu:  1 quick wicking tank top, 1 quick wicking short sleeve shirt, 1 quick wicking long sleeve shirt, 1 fleece beanie, 1 tank top style bra

- Adie:  Potable Aqua tablets with neutralizer the beginning of day 2

- Francesca:  a few bottles of Potable Aqua tablets with neutralizer tablets (beginning of day 3 on -- a HUGE thanks, Freesia!!!)

- Zamo: 2 mismatched trekking poles

While the group took a side trip up to 6000 ft up the mountain, I went to town to visit the Kilimanjaro Porters Assistance Project, where I was able to borrow the following:

- poncho

- 2 lightweight Cloudveil pullover 'fleeces' (sweatshirt like material on the outside, soft and fuzzy on the inside)

- 1 long sleeve Patagonia capilene shirt

As you can see, still very lacking in the clothing department...7 days of trekking, not many clothes to choose from, no showers.  Yeah, you can only imagine how rank I was :p

A brief overview of the differing weather climates and how I dealt with it...when it was warm, I was in a tank top or short sleeve shirt.  The fleeces from the Porter Project proved essential on days when it was cooler.  When it was cold, I broke out the down jacket. 

The summit push, which was the most extreme climate (started 11pm, summited about 7:30am) -- I wore every piece of top layer listed in this entire list.  If I didn't have my down jacket, I would not have survived.  For my bottoms, I wore my midweight long underwear bottoms under my snowboard pants.  My socks were medium weight.  I would have loved to have expedition weight socks to save my toes the agonizing pain of frostbite.  I did not anticipate the extreme cold and wind, so I would have fared much better had I had proper gloves (maybe my thumb would be okay!).  My homemade balaclava (Polartec Thermal Pro? remnant fabric) -- the best piece of gear I've ever made and essential for keeping my head warm.

Moral of the story (besides carry essentials on the plane!)...there are a lot of good people out there who are willing to help you out when your down on your luck.  If I had not been with this group and linked up to the Porters Assistance Project, it would have been a completely different story.  Even what little I was able to borrow proved enough to conquer the mountain.  Goes to show that you really don't need much...

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Africa blog part 1: Austin to Moshi -- It's just the beginning...

December 25, 2005 - Christmas day

Well, it's been quite an eventful few days! I'll just start from the beginning...

Thursday, Sean picked me up after work and we drove to Houston and stayed with my brother for the night. Mia took a huge liking to me and wanted to be picked up, and Kai could not stop calling me Alyssa (that's my sister).

Friday morning, we left early to try to get to the airport 3 hours before our flight in anticipation of holiday travellers. After all, it was the Friday before Christmas, which falls on a Sunday this year. I usually go to Intercontinental from southwest Houston. We were coming from Katy this time, and tried 1960. I thought it was along 45 north of 1960 because I knew it was way the hell out there. Well, we hit the Woodlands and knew that was too far. Good thing we built in that extra time! Anyways, after asking directions at a gas station, turning around, and taking the Hardy Toll Road south, we finally arrived. We parked at the expensive overnight lot because neither of us knew what "City Economy Parking" was...

Luckily, the line was not long at Terminal C, and although we were at the wrong terminal to check in (should have been at Terminal E), the lady let us slide (our plane was leaving from C, so it just made sense to go there). My camelbak set the x-ray screener into confusion, so I had to explain myself. I told him pretty much that I'm crazy and going to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro. He laughed and asked if you could drive up it. Everyone at the airport was unbelievably in good spirts which was nice, especially this time of year. Houston was no problem. We got to our gate with plenty of down time to spare.

Our plane arrived a tad late. We boarded late. Then we sat on the tarmac for a while. The pilot said that we'd still make it to Newark on time...

Well, once a plane is late, it screws up everything at other airports as well...We finally landed in Newark some 45 minutes late. We had a 2 hour connection. No need to panic, still had some time to work with. BUT...the plane taxied around what seemed to be the entire Newark airport trying to find a free gate. Finally, we found one. HOWEVER, there was no driver for the jetway. We waited and waited and watied...

Finally, we got off the plane. We had to re-check in at Newark since we were switching from Continental to British Airways then. Now, we were on a pretty tight time crunch. We got to the BA desk and the guy (who, by the way, worked really freakin slow!!!) said that we just got there in time to get boarding passes. Phew! However, he said it takes Continental 1 hour to transfer bags, so there could be a good chance that our bags may be delayed. He told us that if they do not arrive in Nairobi, then fill out a claim form for lost baggage in Nairobi.

Well, we ran for it...literally. We had to clear 3 security checkpoints. When we were in line at the 3rd checkpoint, they had a last call for boarding our flight. Shit. We had quite a ways to go through the line. Sean got the cojones to ask people if we could jump in line. Amazingly, people were nice and let us go. He went through first, and went running to the gate. Then I went through, only to be blocked by two bratty little children that would not get out of my freakin' way. I was so ready to push them over. Finally, they moved. I took off running as fast as I could, with boots in my hands as I did not even have the moment to spare to put them back on. I got to the gate -- Sean and I were by far the last 2 on the plane. The flight attendant who greeted me at the door said that I looked like I had just climbed a mountain (oh, how ironic...).

We finally got to London and luckily did not have to clear immigration and recheck bags. Otherwise, it would have been another near miss/missed flight. We had enough time to use the airport loo and then stand in line for the Nairobi flight. Ahhh, our last leg of the journey.

My period started near the end of the London-Nairobi flight. I was so excited about it starting (now you think I'm crazy), but for good reason. It meand that it wouldn't happen on the mountain...yes!!!

We arrived at the Jamo Kenyatta airport in Nairobi, not knowing if our bags made it or not. Immigration was easy -- we simply bought a transit visa for $20. Then made it over to the luggage claim to find that our bags did not arrive. At least we were somewhat prepared mentally for that. We talked to a BA rep and filed a claim, and had her put down to send the bags to Moshi -- we didn't have a physical address but only a hotel name. She would not take that so she left a nubmer we could call back to BA to give them an address. As we were in line, the line grew tenfold behind us. Then the BA rep said, snickering, "Well, if you fly into Nairobi, you have to know that your bags may not make it." Great, just great...

A note about the two bags lost...
1) Duffel bag I'm supposed to bring to Moshi for the Kilimanjaro Porters Assistance Project
2) Duffel with Sean and my stuff, a lot of mountain gear -- we can make do with what we have on us but may need to rent trekking poles and buy a poncho (however, now I have a truely bare bones wardrobe for the climb)

In other words, it's not the end of the world if we don't get our bags before the hike. It would be extremely nice if we did.

It was about 10-ish pm, so we decided to leave after filing the report. We booked a cab right by customs -- it was the official airport taxi. We just figured it would be safer this way, especially at this time of night. The girl booking our taxi was so nice. She commented how she loved my hair and that it was an African hairstyle. I had to tell her that I dyed it ;) I paid since Sean didn't have a $20 bill (yeah, pretty steep), but I had to completely empty out my purse to find my wallet. I took out the Swahili book as it was blocking everything. Then the girl says, "Oh, you know Swahili?" I told her I was trying to learn and knew a few basics. She seemed quite impressed and wished us well.

On our way to our taxi, we were accosted by a safari tout who calls himself "Mr. Safari", and has been "recommended in the Lonely Planet". Yeah, what a crock of shite.

Our cab driver was a nice guy. We exchanged a few pleasantries in some basic Pimsleur Swahili. But the man was an awful driver!!! Cutting people off in round abouts, running over curbs...welcome to Nairobi!

We stayed in the Meridian Court Hotel for about $40 for a double -- just for a night. It's kind of expensive, dirty by American standards, but decent and secure -- there were 2 armed guards outside the front door.

This morning we took the shuttle from Nairobi to Moshi. We were greeted by Lucy of Steenbok. Steenbok had arranged the shuttle service with Riverside. Lucy was extremely nice and wanted to take good care of us. I told her about our bags getting lost, and she asked for the information so that she could try to push it through from Nairobi. Sean and I ate breakfast at the hotel and Lucy was already on the ball calling British Airways.

We loaded into the shuttle bus with a bunch of annoying dorks from who knows where America. One guy had a tattoo on his arm. Now I love tattoos..but...his tattoo was some mathematical crap, derivatives or something. Seriously. You might as well tattoo "DORK" on your forehead. Dorks..they may have been book smart (maybe?), but they were travel stupid. Key indication -- we saw them at the luggage claim yesterday -- one girl carrying around a fancy digital camera with a thin strap around her neck. With a simple snatch and grab scheme, you know that won't last long. Heck, I kind of liked the camera and could pull a scheme off...but I'm not that kind of person. I know I sound so mean, but these people were freaking annoying. Try getting stuck on a bus for 8 hours with 7 annoying people...

The ride down to Moshi had some fantastic scenary. We went from the city of Nairobi to the arid lands nearby where the Maasai herd cows and goats, to a lush area with a mountain with a gorgeous slab that looked like a trad climbers wet dream, to Mt. Meru, a layover in Arusha, then to seeing Mt. Kilimanjaro mysteriously enshrouded in a thick layer of clouds.

The border crossing in Namanga proved interesting as well. The bus took us to the Kenyan border office. The official looked at my warped, beer soaked passport -- I told him that I travel a lot. He stamped it and I went on. One of these days, they're not going to let me back in the US with that passport...There were touts on the Kenyan side saying, "Tanzanian visa right there, I'll take you there." These are just scam artists as next to the Kenyan immigration office is a hotel and some other shops. No telling what evil they're up to.

I asked our driver and he said that he drives us to the Tanzanian immigration. We loaded onto the bus while Maasai women put beaded jewelry against the windows of the bus trying to sell us their goods. The driver took us to the Tanzanian immigration, parked the bus. Then we walked across the street. Our driver took people's passports who needed visas (me, Sean, and an Aussie guy), fast tracked us through the system and got to the front of the line, while the annoying dorks had to stand in a long line -- they'd gotten visas ahead of time but needed to declare their arrival. There was a bit of confusion, but we got our visas to us before the annoying dorks finished. One of the annoying dork guys complained to us that it was the fault of the people who didn't have visas -- the reason it was taking so long. Sean was quick to tell him that we got ours done, hook line and sinker, and HIS dorky ass friends were the ones taking forever to get through. Hmph!

We got to Arusha and switched busses. Sean and I got on first and picked seats. The annoying dorks complained about how they got crappy seats. Poohoo, cry me a river.

We made a 45 minute stop in Arusha. There was a hotel there but the lunch was way too expensive, like $10-$12US, so we skipped out on it. Sean and I got back to the bus to discover new people on it (Alexa, Brian, and Megan were on the bus, who would later join us for the climb and safari, but we didn't know that at the time). We got our good seats. Then the dorks came, late, and said, "How are we all going to fit in here???" Holy shit, get a grip people! There were about 3-4 seats extra even with all of them on.

The ride from Arusha to Moshi was nice -- we started seeing glimpses of M. Kilimanjaro's expansive base. The top was covered in clouds, so we really had no idea what it looked like. Sean seemed ready to punch one of the dorks as they wouldn't shut up the entire time. But alas, they were the 2nd group to leave the bus. Ahhh..peace at last. The bus dropped us off at the Keys Annex.

The Keys is a nice hotel. First things first, shower. I'd been wearing the same clothes for 4 days straight, sweating in them (only pair of warm weather clothes I have). I gave Sean a Will Heron shirt I had printed for Christmas last night in Nairobi. Well guess who's wearing the shirt now!? Me! :) I had to borrow it because my shirt reeks of stench.

Kilimanjaro obscured by the clouds - view from the Keys Annex

We took a cab to Moshi to use the internet. My Swahili learning attempts really came into play then. Our driver did not speak English, so I used what little Swahili vocabulary I knew to say "kompyuta" and "internet". Luckily, he understood. We gave him 4 (nne) dollars for the ride and he seemed happy with that. As we closed the door, he said, "Baadaye" which means "later". He wanted to wait for us to take us back. Crap, how do I say, "We're going to stay in the center" in Swahili??? I just told him, "Hapana, bwana", and pointed to the ground. We told him in English that we're staying here. Don't know if he understood, but he got the message.

We internetted for a bit, emailed Steenbok to give Lucy the address of the Keys Hotel, and I emailed Karen of the Kili Porters Assistance Project to let her know what was going on with their bag as well.

It was about 6:30pm and we walked over to the Kidoroko hotel to meet up with the Christmas gathering Boots trip crew, only to find that by the time we climbed the stairs up to the rooftop, there was not a soul in sight. We'd just missed everyone. But we saw Kili in all her majesty, coulds gone, top revealed -- only a little bit of glacier left on top.

Walking around this first day out was a bit of a culture shock syndrome for us. We got a lot of stares, comments, "Hello"s, etc. We were frustrated, dealing with the luggage situation, tired from 36 hours of air travel/transit and 8 hours of bus travel...

We caught a cab from the Kindoroko to the Keys with another cabbie who did not speak English. Sean broke out his Swahili. It's been interesting thus far. I feel that we need to beef up on our vocabulary.

We decided to eat dinner at the Keys -- we hadn't eaten since breakfast...some 12 hours before. Our bodies were in some weird beyond-hunger state. They had a special Christmas dinner menu. I was pretty excited about it. Only to feel nauseous after the appetizer, retire to the room, and puke my brains out. Then I felt better, sucked down water, multivitamins, and a glucose tablet. I'm sure it wasn't the food but all the events leading up to dinner and a bad case of dehydration as well.

December 26, 2005 - Monday

Today has proven eventful as the rest of the days so far. First things first, we called British Airways to try to locate our bags. Sean spoke to the rep and found out that 1 bag was in Nairobi. They could either send it to Arusha or the Kilimanjaro Airport, but not to Moshi. He couldn't understand her though. We called Donovan to get some advice, then had the receptionist talk to BA for us. She also had trouble understanding the lady as well. They had no status of the other bag.

Long story short, Donovan found out the bag going to the Kili airport is the porter project bag. Everyone's been cool about the situation and I've had lots of clothes offered to me to borrow.

A bit after noon, we met up with some of the group at the reception desk. Donovan was checking people in. I met Court, Daisy, Sara, Sean, Madhu, Freesia and others. A lot of people seemed to show up all at once.

Some people were heading into the city, but Sean, Daisy and I decided to have a late lunch at the hotel. Donovan found us and introduced us to Zamo, who works with the Porters Assistance Project and was going to give us the hookups to get gear. I wrote up a short list for Zamo -- trekking poles, fleeces, ponchos, etc.

Later Madhu, Jonathan, Soyan, and Cindy joined us. We grouped together in the restaurant for the briefing. Donovan introduced us to the Boots staff and our guides, Nickson and Freddy, and to Zamo. The briefing was just climb, safari, and general info. Quick and short. After the briefing was a trip up the mountain to 6000 ft.

I couldn't make that trip because I had arranged to go to the Kili Porters Assistance Project office to pick out gear to borrow. I sent Sean away on that trip and took a $5 (expensive, but the guy wouldn't bargain) taxi to town. I met with Ana, who was volunteering at the office. Then I met with Karen Valenti, the project coordinator. It was so nice to finally meet with her after all the communicating we had done. I admired the work she was doing, and at the same time, she was really excited that I had volunteered to be a courier. It was also nice that my efforts of good deeds had come full circle -- I helped bring a bag down and yet I ended up being in need and they were there to help me out.

Karen showed me the closet of jackets the lend out to the porters and spoke to me about the program. I was fascinated and wanted to ask a million questions, but my cab driver was impatient, so I had to cut it short. From the porter project, I was able to borrow a poncho, 2 light Cloudveil sweatshirts, a long sleeve capilene Patagonia shirt, and a light fleece for Sean.

I went back to the hotel and hung out in the garden for a while, then sat outside of my room (Sean had the key).

For dinner, some went about town and a big group of us decided to eat at the hotel. Madhu hooked me up with a clothes -- a tank top style bra, a sleeveless shirt, a long sleeve shirt, and a short sleeve shirt. Then we went to have dinner. It was Soyan's birthday and Jonathan had arranged to have a cake baked for his wife -- such a sweet gesture. I wasn't very hungry since I was ill last night, so I ate sparingly. The staff finally found the birthday cake and brought it out. We all sang happy birthday

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

The long journey home...

Well, I'm heading off for home today. It's been an eventful 3 weeks and i'll fill you in once I get home. Leaving Zanzibar today, the 12th, at 4:30pm and won't get home till the 13th at 4:30pm (mind you Zanzibar is 9 hours ahead as well!).

Today, have to run some last minute errands before departing this little island with such awesome food and beatiful blue water. *sigh*

*Hope* to find our baggage in Nairobi so we can change shoes and have a little piece of mind. But with our luck on this trip, one question comes to mind...what else can go wrong? Not home yet!!! :p

Monday, January 09, 2006

Africa hates me...(but doing much better now)

Boy do I have so many stories from this trip! Will keep it short, it's about dinner time here...

Well, just when I thought things couldn't get worse...Sean and i went to the Kilimanjaro airport the day we got back from safari with Jonathan and Soyan, who also lost their bags (from Bolivia, though). Needless to say, after spending a bit of time in this dead airport, we were able to reclaim the porter project bag. Yay, one thing taken care of!!! Jonahthan and Soyan were stil missing theirs, however. We figure that we'll just try to get our bag, which we're sure has been pilfered through as it had some good gear in it, in Nairobi. Only a few more days to survive on 1 t-shirt (now two because i got one from the porter project) and a pair of pants. Not worth it to go through the hassle of trying to get our bag to Kili, when we only had a night there, only to have our bag stuck there..etc etc etc...

So the 'Africa hates me' part...Sean and I bought our flights to Zanzibar the day we came back from the Kilimanjaro climb. We got the early flight, the 11am one..then Madhu and Cindy bought tickets for them and Tracy and Mary right after we bought our tickets. Mind you, this is about a week ago...

Sean and i got to the Kili airport via a free shuttle from Precision air, super to the airport at around 8am (a taxi costs $50 US one way). They wouldn't let us check in early, so we waited around till just before 10am to check in. The other people on the flight from our trip, Madhu, Cindy, Tracy, Mary, had arrived. When we went to check in, they told us the flight was full and that we were on the waiting list. WE were like, what the fuck..why are we on a waiting list? Well so, the ticket says that we needed to reconfirm the flight. We were pretty remote...Tracy had the same problem, but somehow, they let the 4 girls on the flight. What the fuck? Then Adie and Christie showed up, and were able to get on as well. Again, wtf? And then Brian, Alexa, and Megan also were able to get on. Yeah, once again, wtf? They told us to stand to the side, they'd get a manager, and they'd let us know at 10:30 fi we could get on (that was boarding time as well). Long story short, I have no frikkin' idea how we were not able to get on that damn flight since we we bought our tickets earlier than others (no one else had confirmed either), and checked in first of the entire group. I mean seriously. Dude, you can only imagine how pissed i was...I mean, this trip has been f'ed up in so many ways and i've been able to keep a smile on my face..but damn, how many things could go wrong?

Anyways, long story short, we were able to finagle our way onto the 3:20pm flight to Zanzibar, so after spending a long time in a small, boring airport, we finally made it. Yay, we're here!

We're staying in Stone Town with Jonathan and Soyan, since we had to do a lot of business stuff (buy tickets to Nairobi, bank, etc etc etc) and another reason, we don't have beach stuff. I was really looking forward to hitting up the beach and relaxing in a hammock in a cute cabana, but it isn't going to happen on this trip. i've come to accept that and am enjoying myself in Stone Town. It's a bit hustle and bustle here, but the touts are not as pushy as the ones in Moshi. People are really friendly.

Today, we just wandered around the maze like streets, got lost, found a guy applying liquid to a teak frame. We talked to him for a bit, explored his shop and bought a wooden spoon and spork from him. Found out he's on the Zanzibar football (soccer) team, he said he's at the end of his career and has to do something with his mind rather than his body. Now he does woodcarvings. He even showed us a book he got in Germany with the Zanzibar football team on it. I'm so tempted to go back to his shop and buy a carved teak mirror frame...that, I probably will do once we have our stuff sorted out.

Oh yeah, and I *finally* got sandals after all this time with only a pair of hiking boots. I was more than excited to find "Batman Ocean" sandals that i'm now wearing with a sarong i got in an overpriced market in Arusha.

Today's been awesome, getting lost, finding the Darajani markets where I can find kangas (panels of fabric that women wear with swahili sayings on the bottom) for about 3000 shillings or less (previously paid 4000-6000 shilings for them). Oh gawd, and the street food here is just awesome!!!

Tomorrow is an all day spice tour with a few ruins and history on the way.

Will probably write next when i'm back home. Will be back Friday the 13th...

Monday, January 02, 2006

Mt Kilimanjaro -- conquered!!!

Just a quick note, whatever I can put in in the next 20 minutes...

Yes, from the headlines, you can see that I have indeed conquered that damn mountain. It was a hard, greuling, 5 days to the top. The ascent day, by far, the most difficult. On our 5th day, we started the summit attempt at 11pm. Yes, 11pm. It took me 8 hours to get to Uhuru Peak, the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro some 19,340ish feet in elevation. That day was extremely difficult -- cold, windy, sleep deprived...but I somehow managed to make it. And got a little bit of frostbite on my right thumb to boot. Hard to believe I was on top of Africa yesterday morning!!! Gorgeous sunrise over what is left of the melting glaciers.

Got off the mountain today, and glady took a long, hot shower cleaning my grimey body off after 7 days of wretchidness. Sounds exciting, I know :p

I have come to prove that you don't need fancy, expensive gear to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro (most of it was in my checked in luggage, which as of now, *both* pieces are still "lost"). Good friends fill in when luggage is lost. I've seen the spirit of human kindness (yet again, and on another trip!).

Tomorrow, we're off to safari until Saturday. Sunday, we've got plane tix booked for Zanzibar for some fun in the sun and beaching it (not that I have a bathing suit or sandals b/c it was in the check in...).

Happy New Year from Moshi, Tanzania!!!