Thursday, May 28, 2015

"A mountain that is difficult to climb"

*Disclaimer- I started writing this blog back in October of 2014... that's how long it's taken me to sit down and take the time to complete it. So here is an update of Steve and my travels through Africa last year, but most importantly, our journey of Climbing Kili...*

A few weeks ago while couch surfing in our [new] friends apartment in Stonetown, Zanzibar, we left a bunch of things behind as we rushed out of his place in the early hours to catch a ferry back to the mainland of Tanzania. One of those things happened to be the charger and our outlet plug for the macbook. So we've been without a computer for the last few weeks, asking everyone where we stay if they happen to also have a macbook pro but to no avail until we reached this cool little hostel in Essaouira, Morocco. So now I finally have a little bit of power and a little bit of time to catch you all up again..

On September 30 we flew out of Cape Town, SA. After dropping off our rental car at the airport we decided to sit down at the bar and have a victory shot of tequila and a few beers before boarding the plane. Then on the plane we took advantage of the free bottles of wine. During our layover in Johannesburg, we had yet another beer, and then a few more bottles of free wine on the plane ride to Kenya and then to Kilimanjaro airport, Tanzania. Big mistake as by that point we had gotten little sleep on the overnight flight and were suffering some pretty brutal hangovers and motion-sickness. I've never gotten motion sick really in my life aside from in cars, but for some reason after primarily biking for the last few years, I tend to get motion sick on any moving vehicle. Our guide for the trek up Kili, Eligius and his brothers picked us up from the airport and drove us an hour to the hotel they were putting us up in in Arusha. The whole ride I spent with my head between my legs taking deep breathes so I wouldn't get sick. After we dropped our bags off in the hotel room, we went out with Eligius and his two brothers to a local restaurant for a traditional dinner. It consisted of a communal stew with chicken, potatoes, carrots, plantains, and other veggies, that you would then eat with your hands. The second part of the meal was 'nyama choma', or roasted meat. That we ate with the more familiar 'ugali', which is the same as the sima we've been eating in Zambia.

Back at the hotel while arranging all of our gear for the mountain that night, Steves cousin, Emily, and her friend Christy showed up to join us for the hike. Emily lives in London working for an advert company, and Christy is a nurse in Sacramento, California. They flew to Tanzania to do a safari in the Serengeti, then climb Kili with us. We had some wine, packed our bags, rented some warmer clothes and ski poles and gaiters and other gear, then went to bed early. And thus begins a week on Mount Kilimanjaro...

Day 1- Oct. 2
After a quick breakfast at the hotel, we loaded up the van and started the drive out to Kilimanjaro National Park. The night before, the guides and chef had gone out shopping for our entire weeks worth of food, so the van was pretty full. We drove a little over an hour to get to Kilimanjaro, then we had to drive further to the gate that we were basing our climb out of, since there are about 8 different routes you can take. Along the way out to Marangu Route, we stopped in a little village town in the rainforest to use the toilet. A man came up with a chameleon on a stick, that he probably found on the ground, and let us hold it and take pictures of it. He then demanded $10 per picture! We said he was ridiculous, but gave him a bag of chips, which he then threw back in our faces and demanded money instead. We agreed to delete all of the pictures and finally our drivers just drove the van away from the angry chameleon-schemer.

At the base of Marangu Route it was super foggy and drizzly as we packed everything up into these huge waterproof bags that our porters (transporters) carry on their heads. That consisted of all our clothes for the week, sleeping bags, food for everyone, water, cooking materials, and the gasoline to cook with since you can't make a fire on the mountain. We registered and paid the park feess, which included a $20 rescue-by-stretcher fee, $6 for the mountain crew, $50pp/night hut fee, and the daily park fee. We went to finally begin our first days hike when Christy got hit with a torrential visit from Mr. D. We were delayed starting by an hour or so, but that was okay because we didn't have long of a hike and we wanted her to feel healthy before going on a walk with no sit-down toilets for the next few hours. So while she was takin care of business, we opened up our first packed lunch for the trip. These guys do a pretty good job with the food. That first day we had mango juice, a traditional pancake, a shredded carrot and cheese sandwich, fried chicken, a banana, a muffin, and a chocolate bar! Pretty sweet. Once Christy felt better, we began our hike around 2pm. The first day was entirely through wooded rainforest with crazy vines and moss. The air was cool and so fresh. The surrounding nature, fresh air, and light physical activity just makes me feel so good and happy and right. I've really missed hiking, and it reminded me of the redwoods back home.
From the gate to the first huts (Mandala Huts) took about 3 hours at a "pole-pole" (slowly-slowly) leisurely pace. We crossed over rivers, saw small waterfalls, and even had black and white colobus monkeys swinging on vines above us, playing on each others backs, and eating fruit berries in the branches. From the HQ where we started that afternoon at 1,879m, to Mandala Huts where we slept that first night at 2,700m, we trekked 8km through Montane Forest. We arrived at dusk to first camp and checked into a simple little triangular wood hut. It had three small beds on the ground and one halfway up on the wall. It was so small inside though, Steve and I took one for the team and offered to share a bed so that we would have room for our bags on the fourth bed.
Mandala Huts, 2700m (8850 ft)
Dinner was around 6pm and in a bigger cabin-dining area. Eligius and his brother Abraham ate with us. We had some amazing (maybe more amazing because it was cold and we were tired?) zucchini soup, breaded fish fillets, pancakes, and fruits for dessert, as well as some nice curried vegetables over noodles because Christy is a vegetarian. Night time was cold and we all had to constantly pee because we were drinking 3L of water/day to stay hydrated, plus multiple cups of hot tea and hot cocoa and soup to stay warm. Every time someone got up in the cabin to go outside, we would all wake up, so it turned into group pee sessions right outside our door. So that first night none of us really got much sleep because we were all tossing and turning, getting up for the restroom, freezing, plus... Steve snores SO LOUD! So it was an adjustment for all of us. I just had to keep punching and kicking him through the night, so that works to quiet him down momentarily :)


Day 2- Oct. 3
We woke up around 6:30. Our porter/waiter provided hot water for us to wash our faces, which was a nice way to wake up and start another cold day. We had tea/coffee/cocoa for breakfast, along with fried eggs, avocado, bread, and fruit. The waiter took all of our water bottles and camel-baks and they boiled a bunch of water for us for the day. We packed up our bags, and stupid us (Steve and I), we decided not to pull the rain-cover over my large bag, because they put all of our bags into larger military-grade waterproof bags. Huge. Mistake. We started hiking out around 8am, and as we moved out of the rain forest and into "heather climate zone," which was a mixed climate with rocks, and cacti, crazy looking trees, and fire-poker flowers.... it began to rain. At first it was welcome and a nice drizzle. We stopped multiple times to put on and remove and put on our rain coats. I spotted a buffalo, but Eligius didn't believe me and tried to assure me that no game animals could be found on our route.. until he saw it himself. Anyways, it shortly started pouring down rain. It poured non-stop or 6 hours. That's how we discovered that there's really no such thing as "waterproof" clothing. By the time that we were all completely soaked through with numb, shaking hands, we stopped to eat our packed lunch... in the rain. We did find some small bush-trees we could all squat under, and we tied up a rainfly to try and block some of the rain, but it didn't help much.
Funky Trees on a Rainy Day
My Swiss Family Robinson Journal of our travels through Africa,
 now water damaged from Kili
After 6 hours of misery, we finally made it to camp dreaming of a hot shower and a change into warm, dry clothes. Unfortunately, there are no hot showers on the mountain, and even more unfortunately, our bag that we didn't pull the waterproof cover over had gotten completely soaked through. Our sleeping bags were wet, our change of clothes were wet, our socks were wet.. and there was really no place to hang anything to dry because it was raining outside. So, we took over our extremely small hut and hung up everything that we had, even my journal (where this is all originally written), that has now been given character and 'knowledge wrinkles' due to that rainy hike. We changed into damp clothes, then went to huddle in the dining cabin because you also cannot build any fires on the mountain. The hot cocoa and soup for dinner that night had never been more welcome. We met a group of 3 from London- Mandy (who shall hence-forth be referred to as Pole-Pole), and her married-couple friends, and we all sat and had nice chats with them. They were on the same trek as us, so we had passed and been passed by them throughout the day. Our porters boiled our water for us that evening, so that we could put it in our sleeping bags and use it to keep warm at night. We passed out early, bundled up and freezing. This day was so disheartening for me, being completely miserable and soaked to the bone... but we had to keep the bigger picture in mind! For now, we had made it to Horambo Hut, at 3,730m/ 12,205 ft.
Horambo Huts, 3,730 m (12,205 ft.) Dining Hall Cabin to the right
Above the clouds at Horambo Huts.
Day 3- Oct. 4

Zebra Rock.. Is it black and white, or white and black?
Our third day was our acclimatizing day. After breakfast we didn't need to pack up our big bags because we would just be doing a day hike, so we packed our day bags with cliff bars and water, then headed out, starting up a really steep hill. We hiked about 2 hours up to a place called Zebra Rock, which is just a big black rock with white water mineral stains running down it (or is it a white rock with black stains?!). We were there at the same time as the Pole-Pole group from the UK, and Pole-Pole offered us some candies (pi-pi in Swahili, pronounced like pee-pee), and we laid on some rocks for a while to chill out and get used to the altitude at 4,185 meters up. After that, it was an hour hike back down in the drizzle, then we just hung out at camp for the rest of the day. I took a nap, we played some cards, and had popcorn and tea. It was around that time that I started feeling pretty crappy, and my throat was so unbelievably sore and too painful to swallow anything. Luckily, we had nurse Christy along with us there, and the second she took a look at my throat she could determine I had strep. Even more luckily, I have an amazing man in my life who worries just the right amount to be prepared and think ahead. He had packed with him a 3-day Zpac of antibiotics, so I started taking them right away..


....Let me just take a side moment to dote on my boyfriend a little bit. He is so wonderful to me, all of the time. Like literally, all the time- he has never wronged me or been mean to me, or purposefully upset me. Honestly, I don't deserve his kind of love, especially with how often I get frustrated and grumpy and bitchy towards him. He's unconditionally sweet and caring towards me. Whenever I don't feel good, he'll take the time to get medicine or water or whatever it is that I need- even if it's in the middle of the night and he's comfy asleep and the meds are buried deep in his bag, he'll get up and unpack or dig for them. He lets me lay all over and sleep on him on buses, trains, planes, whatever, and he never complains even if his legs go numb. As long as I'm comfortable. He's constantly thinking of me, going out of his way for me, and putting up with my bullshit and mood swings, all with a smile on his face and a sweetness in his heart. His unfaltering love and unselfish demeanor are astounding. He is such an amazing man and I am so truly, unbelievably lucky that he chose me. I love him so incredibly much :)...


Okay.. Back to Kili. Sleep was getting harder and more restless with each night spent on the mountain, regardless of how exhausted we were by the end of the day. Add to the tossing and turning and freezing cold, a dose of strep throat (for me) and a respiratory infection (for Steve) that clogs your sinuses and makes Steve snore even LOUDER (it's possible?! yes.), plus the thinner air at the higher altitude and you barely accomplish any sleep. And sleep is exactly what we would need for...

Day 4, Oct. 5
Climbing out of camp
 We had an early start out of camp. The last two nights we had spent at Horambo Huts, at 3,720m, in the "Heather Climate" zone. At this point we were above the clouds which called for less rain and beautiful sunrise and sunsets. Anyways, Day 4 was going to be a really long day. We left camp after packing up before 8am, and started out on a path parallel to the one we had taken the day before to Zebra Rock. The beginning of the day was a lot of pretty steep up-hills, but it did flatten out a bit into a sort of desert where previous trekkers had made rock formations, spelled out their names in rocks, or created "luck" towers of stacked and balanced rocks. After a water break, Eligius and I started to jog the trail for a bit, so we could get out of the cloud shadows and into the sun. It felt good to run!

Getting to the "desert".. and a nice view of Kilimanjaro!! We would summit that the next day!! Looks kind of small?


At one point, you get to "Last Water Point" which means that there are no more water sources and you move up the mountain. It also means that this is where all of the porters have to gather water from to bring up the rest of the journey. 2 of our porters each carried 20Ls or water for the rest of the day, for many miles up the mountain. We took a short cliff bar break, Pole-Pole shared some more pi-pi, and we continued on our way. Once we reached the lunch area, about an hour and a half from our next camp, Steve's cousin Emily started feeling really nauseous. We tried getting her to eat but she could only stomach some juice. Her friend Christy also began to complain of a headache. We knew that the air was getting thinner as we were getting higher up, and a lot of people suffer from altitude sickness. After we started walking the last stretch, we looked back to see Emily hunched over throwing up. We all made our way slowly to camp with hearts pounding and short breaths. Once we were there, Emily and Christy pretty much collapsed to the ground while I signed us all in. We were given a larger room with about 12 beds in it, because they have hikers share rooms on the last night. We asked if we could possibly have the whole room to ourselves, and they allowed it because not many people would be coming through. Man, it was so incredibly hard to breathe and move around at this altitude. Just getting up to go use the bathroom was a feat and would leave you hunched over and breathless. We could really feel the sheer height at this point, as the high peaks and extreme altitude pressed in all around us.
View of Mount Mawenzi, an extinct volcanic cone next to Hibo, Kilimanjaros tallest volcanic cone

The day didn't get any better for Emily or Christy. Emily got so sick that Steve had to physically take her to the bathroom. Christy had pretty much given up the moment we reached camp, saying that she wouldn't be able to continue to summit. We thought that because she was a nurse, she was too much inside her own head and psychologically couldn't shake the fact that she was so far away from medical services if she did fall really ill- which is a legitimate concern, but the psychological aspect was such an important part in being able to complete this journey- you had to have a really strong mind, which I later came to learn. Emily remained tough as hell, but she was really really sick. Eligius and Abraham both tried to give them words of encouragement, but Christy seemed too far gone and determined to head back down the mountain, and take Emily with her. This was the toughest day of our trek so far, because after a 6 hour hike and arriving to camp around 4pm, we had some dinner, then went to bed at 6:30 pm so we could wake up at 11pm that same evening. Again, because of the altitude that we were at, everything was a struggle, even resting. It was so hard to breathe, and every movement that you made would send your heart into a pounding overdrive to try and compensate for the lack of oxygen. It literally felt as if it would explode, more so than mine would ever feel at the end of a 400m full-on-hurdle-sprint around the track. And the danger of laying down when your heart is pumping like this is at such a high altitude, is that it can pump so hard that it pushes blood into your brain and causes an aneurysm and kills you. It happens to quite a number of climbers that lay down when they summit Kili. So sleeping was nearly impossible, as well as terrifying, because every time you even moved a finger, or readjusted your hand, or god-forbid roll over to a different side, your heart rate would jump up.
Blurry view of our 12-person hut at Kibo Huts, with Steve, Eligius, Christy, and Emily

So, we were woken up at 11pm by a smiling Eligius and Abraham; a measly 3.5 hours after we had gone to sleep after a 6 hour hiking day. Emily and Christy we both still really sick- Emily had continued to throw up throughout the night, while Christy had such a pounding migraine that all she could do was cry in agony. They decided to stay behind and head back down the mountain after a little while longer of resting, which is the best thing to do with altitude sickness- head down and get to a lower elevation. We felt really bad leaving them behind, but they were adamant that we continued on and reached the top for them.

Day 5, Oct. 6
We layered up, geared up and started our ascent to the summit at midnight, just as snow was starting to fall down. Eligius, our steadfast guide, had developed pneumonia, so it was the three of us sickies (strep throat, respiratory infection, pneumonia), plus our WAITER, Ponceon, heading up the mountain. Abraham, our secondary guide, had decided to stay back with Emily and Christy and escort them down the mountain, so our waiter had to step in to summit with Steve and I. Crazy guy- Ponceon had on dress shoes and NO GLOVES! Man, we are such huge wimps compared to Tanzanians. It was absolutely freezing, and as I mentioned, snowing.. in the pitch black, with no light but your headlamp to see a few feet in front of you.

We zigzagged back and forth up the seer rock/sand face of the mountain. The only light in all the darkness, like I mentioned, came only from our headlamps. We could look up the mountain and see tiny specks of light from those above us, and look back and see tiny specks from those below us. Otherwise, we were alone in the vast darkness. With each step, the mountain seemed further and further away, and each breath grew tougher and shallower. After 3 hours of climbing, we reached Hans Meir Cave, a little gap under a rock slate where you could sit and rest out of the snow. We had a quick breather, some tea, cookies, and power bars. It was such a relief to be able to sit for a few minutes, but then we could barely stand back up! Steve took off his mittens, leaving his gloves on, for about 30 seconds to get something out of his pack for me, and he lost all feeling in his hands. Even with 3 pairs of wool socks on, and heavy gortex boots, we were losing all feeling in our feet as well. With every few steps that we took while climbing, we'd have to pause and kick our feet against a rock or the ground, just to gain a small sensation of feeling in our feet again. It was scary to feel onsets of frostbite like that, and know that you are hours and miles away from taking a break and warming up.

About 4-5 hours into the climb, I started to feel really sick and exhausted. Climing Kili taught me the true meaning of exhaustion- when you have literally depleted and exhausted everything that your body can offer, and you just can't carry on.. but you do. Steve was feeling the same way, but was encouraging me and didn't want to complain as well. Every few steps my legs would buckle out from me, and I would break down crying, knowing that I couldn't possibly take another step. Steve would hold me and make me focus on calming down my breathing. I wanted to quit a million times, and kept saying "this is good enough, I can always try again in the future". We both wanted nothing more than to quit and head back down the mountain. Eligius kept coughing and holding his chest, spitting up hunks of saliva and checking it for blood. All I could think in my head was "If Eligius is this sick, he should know to turn around and say he can't continue.. then it won't have been me who quit." We were all in pretty rough shape.

We slowed to a crawl as we reached the first peak of the mountain. We then pretty much rock-climbed for the next 30 minutes over snow covered boulders, having to use our hands and feet to progress straight up the rock face. Again, so many times I sat down and cried, and tried to quit. Eligius would not let me, and kept saying "just a few more steps, we're almost there." ...I kept on. At this point I realized how important your psych is, and how you have to have a really strong mind to accomplish feats when your body can no longer push on. It was my mind and the encouragement from Steve and our guide that got me over that first peak. Never in my life have I ever been pushed to my brink, and so far past my breaking point, over and over again. It was all we could do to put one foot in front of the other, and that is the exact definition of taking things "one step at a time"... you would put all of your concentration into moving that one step with one foot, then pause and take a few deep breaths, then put all of your concentration and will into moving your next foot in front of the last.

We reached Gilmans Point and were so completely overwhelmed with joy and exhaustion and happiness and all the feels, that we cried. Even though this was the first of 3 peaks we would have to reach, the was something about actually feeling like we had accomplished something; we had made it somewhere over and onto the rest of the mountain...

...and at that moment as we turned to look behind us at how far we had come, the sun began to rise:

It was the most beautiful and emotional sunrise I had ever seen, so much so, that I began to get a second wind. A new day was now upon us! (And did I mention that when we began at midnight, it was the first time I've ever had SNOW for my birthday!? And now this sunrise!? On the day that I turned 25!?) As I was getting high off of all of this emotion, Steve was fading down, and fast. We discussed turning back, calling this point "good enough," but Eligius said we only had two more hours to go, 1 hour to each of the next peaks, and we could see the summit in the not-so-far distance. I gave Steve my best pep-talk. When he felt like he had nothing left in the tank, two more hours of hiking an impossible feat, I was able to get him up and on his feet again. At our absolute lowest points, we encouraged each other and got each other through it. Neither of us could have done it without the other.

Walking from Stella to Uhuru Point along a cliff

We slowly made our way from Gilmans Point to Stella Point, along the edge of another sheer cliff. It felt like we were walking on the surface of a strange, frozen planet. Pole-Pole, step-by-step, always slowly. We needed to take many more breaks along our way to Stella, but we finally made it there- the "silver medal" of Kilimanjaro. We came this far- we couldn't quit now! Plus there were a bunch of old people up there. We were seriously some of the youngest people trekking Kili, and from all of the other routes up, we converged at this point with large groups of people from all around the world, all trying to accomplish their goal for whatever reason was driving them to succeed. It still took everything that we had, and Steve and I started to experience symptoms of altitude sickness, but eventually we made it to UHURU! (Freedom Peak!) Time Stamp: 8:02 am, 8 hours after beginning. 

Steve, myself, and our Excellent Eligius: THE MAN! 
Shrinking Glaciers
(I had to. Go SHARKS!)
We did it!!!
Happy 25th Birthday to ME!! :)
After taking our pictures and fighting with a group of 50+ Canadians who all wanted selfies in front of the sign (we did, too! but we were going to be a lot faster!), we marveled at the shrinking glaciers (which will soon be gone, #thanksobama)(<- the hashtag is a joke, because everyone blames everything on Obama), we started the trek back down to our previous camp where we had left all of our things. After feeling sick and wanting to throw up for the previous 6 hours, walking back downhill was a relief, and with each step lower in elevation, we could feel the effects of altitude sickness beginning to disappear. We made it back down to Gilman's Point, and ran into Pole-Pole, still on her ascent up to summit. Let me just add in that this lady was overweight, out of shape, and in her 60's... and she was KILLIN IT! We gave her some words of encouragement, not that she seemed to need any, and we kept going. We "skied" down the loose mountain after we got down off the boulders we had just hand climbed up a few hours before. The loose mountain side of sand and dirt allowed us to basically run down, instead of take the zig-zag trail, and plant our feet and "ski". Although this was extremely hard on the knees, it took half the time that it did for us to go up, and was a lot more fun. We made it back to Kibo Hut, both still feeling sick and exhausted. We took an hour long nap, which Eligius had advised us against, and we felt a lot worse when we did get up again. We had to get lower; you can't stay at that high altitude for too long. So we packed up our bags, had some soup, and then headed back down the trail we had hiked up the day before. 4 hours later we got down to the next lowest camp, Horombo Huts again.

On this day, October 6th, 2014, my 25th Birthday, we summited Mt. Kilimanjaro, all the way to its highest point, Uhuru Peak, at 8am. On that day, in total, we hiked for 15 hours straight, and covered 17 miles, with an altitude gain of 5,000 ft, then down another 7,000 ft.

When we reached Horombo, we were surprised to find that Emily and Christy were not there waiting for us, which is what the plan was. Apparently, they absolutely had to get off the mountain, and decided to descend the entire mountain in a single day, then took a taxi 2 hours back to the hotel in Arusha.

That night at Horombo hut, we met up with the married couple from the Pole-Pole group. The husband, Andrew, had gotten really bad altitude sickness when he reached Kibo huts, and had to be taken down the mountain in an emergency stretcher. The wife had gotten up earlier and summited a little before us, but for some reason we didn't run into her on the mountain. We updated them on the last time we had seen Pole-Pole at Gilman's Point, and wondered at what time she would make it back down to us at Horombo. My sweet man had sneakily bought a bottle of champagne and had the porters trek it up the mountain, and they made me a birthday cake- from scratch of whatever ingredients they could find!! I invited our new friends over, they lit candles and sang to me, we shared cake around the cabin, then I got to pop champagne and celebrate 25 years and my biggest life achievement ever, all alongside the man that I love :)

Day 6, Oct. 7
The next morning we packed up again, but before we headed all the way down the mountain, we met with all 9 of our porters + waiter and guide out front by the Horombo sign. We tipped them, these people who carried all of our things up and down the mountain and took care of us for a week, and we tipped them well.. Apparently much better than most people. They were so ecstatic and happy, that there was pure joy and excitement emanating through their eyes, bodies, and souls, as they sang us the traditional Kilimanjaro Congratulatory song. We danced around and give high fives and hand shakes and it was just a moment of shared love, happiness, and understanding. Our team was amazing!

It seemed to take a lot longer going down than it had going up, but I think that's because we were just so sore and exhausted. Eligius kept stopping and asking if we wanted to eat lunch, and Steve did, but I kept saying "NO! Let's just get off the mountain!" So we pushed on, through the heather climate zone, through the jungle with the monkeys and the vines, and back into civilization. 6 hours of hiking through the drizzle, feeling exhilarated as oxygen rushed back into our system and muscles.

We reached the Marangu Gates, and as I passed under it I exclaimed "Uhuru!!!!" and threw my hiking poles up in the air: "FREEDOM!!!" We signed our name and details in the registry, and we were awarded our *gold* certificate for making it all the way to the summit. We payed a dollar to get them laminated, finally ate our lunches, then packed back up into our van and headed the 2 hours back to our hotel in Arusha. You can bet that we passed out for the drive! Hot showers, cold beers, a comfy, warm bed, and Emily and Christy awaited us there!



Climbing Kili was the hardest thing that I've ever set out to do in my life. It was mentally, physically, and emotionally draining- and it drained every last ounce out of me. I couldn't have done it without Steve by my side, and I wouldn't have wanted to- I'm so glad that I'm able to talk him into doing all the crazy things I want to do! I'm so incredibly proud of myself for this accomplishment- for both of us. It was no small or easy feat. That's why it's called Kilimanjaro, which translates to "A Mountain that is Difficult to Climb."

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

And in the blink of an eye...

It was over.

The last few weeks of my service in the Peace Corps and saying goodbye to the people and area that has been my family and home for the last two years flew by. I was busy with so many things to do that I never really had time to process everything that was happening. I was running (biking) all over the place trying to finish up meetings and projects and tell everyone that I'd been working with that I was leaving. I delivered all of my books that I had accumulated in my hut, full of teaching manuals, health lessons, english learning, information on conservation farming techniques, etc. to the local school where I've run a few clubs. I gave all of my health talk posters that I've made in the last two years, along with boxes of condoms, wooden penis models, anatomy books, and health manuals to my clinic and all of the health volunteers so that they could continue working and teaching just like I trained them to do in my health workshop last November. I was finishing up my World Map Project at the school, which took many long hours in the hot sun. I had to oversee the purchasing and delivery of materials and the beginning of construction stages  for the Health Clinic that we helped raise money to build. And I was also planning a traditional village wedding ceremony. On top of all that, I had to finish final reports, type up a summary of my service, disperse papers throughout the district and province, get things signed, get rid of things and pack up my entire hut. Lastly, I had to say goodbye to my best friend, Jones, and my best bud, Chewbacca.
Working on the World Map
All the supplies purchased from the gofundme fundraiser in the storage room to build the clinic!
Broke ground to start laying the foundation of the clinic!! Standing here acting like I know what I'm talking about...

Saying goodbye in Zambia isn't really what you'd expect it to be like. I think as Americans, we expect goodbyes to be sentimental. To them, they just wave goodbye then go back to cooking food or working in the field. It was quick and painless, which made it easier to not process what was happening. But I also had a lot to look forward to in the coming months, so my mind was set on the future a bit and less on being present in it all.

I rang out on Sept 5th. That consisted of going up to a tire rim with a metal rod and hitting it. Then Peace Corps gives you a hug, a handshake, and a Peace Corps pin. That's it, thanks for two years. You are no longer our responsibility, so go check out of your hotel room and be on your way.
All packed up (with too much stuff) and ready to go!
Pulling out the nice shirt to help us get a hitchhike.

So thats what we did. I stood around for 2 pictures, hugged a few people that I am sad to see go, then went and packed up my bags and hit the road. Literally, within the next hour, we were standing on a street corner with all of our bags, trying to hitch-hike up the country. After waiting for 4 hours or so, some little guy named Chris from Tanzania picked us up for a ride. We got to where we were staying that night around 11 pm, then woke up early the next morning and hit the road hitchhiking again. Met up with a friend in Lundazi, and continued our hitchhike over into Malawi and to Nkhata Bay.
The view from my pillow in our bungalow on Lake Malawi. Best way to wake up in the morning.

Chinteche Beach, Lake Malawi
We spent 2 nights there, then started hitching down the lake. Stopped off at a cool backpackers in Chinteche and spent the night camping on the sand. We walked into the local village and found a family that would let us eat dinner with them for a couple dollars. Ended up sitting on their porch while they fed us cassava sima and fried fresh fish and being entertained by the little kids laughing with us on the porch. Back at the backpackers we found out that there was a large Overland truck (the ones that people pay thousands of dollars to go on safari across Africa and all they do is sit in comfy seats and get driven from game park to game park) that was heading the same way as us in the morning. Everyone said we wouldn't be able to hitch a ride with them because of liability reasons, but we happened to convince the guy. So the next morning at 6 am, we loaded up into their truck with crazy stares from all the fancy rich white people wondering why these dirty campers were getting in their tour. It was a wonderful, comfortable ride with a lot of leg room as we headed further down the lake. 
Chinteche Beach, Lake Malawi, Malawi.
That was the beginning of our backpacking trip over the next 9 weeks in Africa. We have slept camping in the sand on countless beaches or cliff-sides throughout Malawi, Mozambique, and South Africa. In Swaziland we slept on the forest ground under monkeys in the mountains near the Queens palace. We've had an actual bed about 4 different nights, otherwise we're on the sand or dirt or grass or even astroturf of every place we go.
Astroturf on the roof of a backpackers in the city center of Maputo, Mozambique.
Hitchhiking is the way to travel around most places here. We've met some really cool, really interesting, and really crazy people along the way. We've gotten rides in the backs of canters full of pcv pipes that fly around and cut into your legs, in the beds of pick-up trucks full of vegetables, a guy with $1,000,000 in his car and a license to kill, brand new hilux's, shitty little beaters, and, as mentioned, Overland Safari trucks. We've been stuffed into mini-buses where you have full grown adults sitting on your lap and on the back because they've put way too many people in the car, and we've had wind blow through our hair riding around in personal tuk-tuk motorbike taxis.
Hitching in the back of pick-up trucks through the mountains of Northwestern Mozambique.
Local bus transport with babies and adults in your lap.
Hitching with babies in your lap and no seat belt on the rim of a truck bed.
Motorcycle Taxis.
In Mozambique we stopped over for a few days and did our scuba-diving certification in the warm waters of the Indian Ocean. It was an amazing experience, and from everyone we talk to I hear that we were extremely lucky to see all we did during our course dives. Being able to swim in a natural aquarium is magnificent. Despite a panic attack that I had when I inhaled a bunch of sea water 15m down, it was such a cool thing. We swam with whale sharks, humpback whales, dolphins, and saw manta rays, octopus, and many more underwater creatures. I can't wait to dive off of Zanzibar Island with some sea turtles!
Tofo Beach, Inhambane, Mozambique.
Whale Shark Selfie! Tofo, Mozambique
There was awesome fresh fish markets throughout the beaches in Mozambique. We would go down and buy from the fisherman and have someone cook it for us right then. Really cheap and really amazing!!
Fresh Calamari and lobsters!
In Mozambique we met a guy from South Africa named Dave who is helping to run a backpackers in Swaziland. We were planning to go through there, but were talking about cutting Swaziland out of our trip and just heading straight to South Africa. Dave not only talked us into coming and staying at his backpackers, but he had a vehicle and wanted company on the drive back to Swaziland (okay, that was a big factor). Swaziland was a really cool little country (Kingdom, under Monarch rule of a King), and I feel like it's a hidden gem in this part of Africa that most people skip when traveling through. It was such a sweet, chill place. The people were amazing everywhere we went, and the surrounding scenery was beautiful. Swaziland really has its stuff together. While we were there, Dave took us out on about a 3 hour hike up the top of Shieba's Breast. It was a beautiful, and tough at times, hike, but it was a perfect serene place to have a picnic lunch atop a rock overlooking valleys roaming with wild animals. After coming back down, we went and swam in some natural hot springs. 

We've traveled overland since Sept 5th, and recently picked up our own rental car when we reached Durban, South Africa. It's been so great to drive, even if its on the opposite side of the road and car than what we're used to in America. We've taken a few days to drive down along the Wild Coast, the Sunshine Coast, the Garden Route, the Whale Route, and so forth into Cape Town.





Did a wine tour in the beautiful wine area of Stellenbosch. And tonight we fly to Arusha, Tanzania.

Stellenbosch Wine Tour, South Africa
Table Mountain in the background. 
The overland route we've taken starting on Sept 5th. 
So here we continue, with the next phase of my blog being my travels through Africa, post-Peace Corps. Hopefully as we see more internet access along the way, we will be able to update about our travels more. We have met really cool people from all over the world, and are getting to experience and learn really fascinating. It's been a great trip so far, and we still have over a month left!!