The Africa Diaries Entry #1: May 19, 2010

During 2010 I toured through Africa.  I kept a detailed journal.  I plan to share it, this was my first entry.

May 19, 2010

I’m in a hotel room in Cape Town, South Africa.  It’s taken over a day and approximately 23 hours of actual flight time to get here.  The flight from Phoenix to Minneapolis was fine.  From Minneapolis to Amsterdam was torture- crying baby, old guy telling war stories, young guy next to me invading my personal space and no leg room.  Flight from Amsterdam to Cape Town was surprisingly enjoyable.  I sat next to a young man named Will who is staying in Cape Town for 6 weeks to help arrange micro-loans for women.  Also next to a young woman named Desiree who is volunteering with horses, children and rhino tracking in Namibia.

As the plane landed my heart began to beat faster.  I have long wanted to travel to Africa, and now I’m finally here.  I was so happy as I got off the plane and my feet touched African soil for the first time.

I was picked up by a guy from the gap adventures tour company and brought to the Saasveld Lodge on Kloof Street in Cape Town.  It’s night so I haven’t seen much yet.  The city seems cool.  People drive on the left.  The city is extremely excited about the world cup this summer.  I won’t be here for it.  I’m taking a tour of Robben Island tomorrow.  I’m so excited.  I need to sleep now.


(at the hotel after incredibly long travel time)


Ran my first 5K. Didn’t Die. Life is Beautiful!




Today I ran my first 5K event ever!  Being able to finish a 5K race without stopping has been on my “bucket list” for a long time.   Today I achieved this goal.  Today was a good day and I’m very happy! 


I have always felt as though I was never a good runner, by this I mean that I never managed to run very fast or very far.  I was planning to take running more seriously last year, and I actually agreed to train for a half marathon in January with my friend Jordana.  But as fate would have it I broke my foot the morning after making the pact to run the half marathon.  I broke my foot in August of 2013, and the healing process has been long and slow.  My foot is mostly healed now (it still hurts a little, but I can do almost everything on it.)  In December I signed up to run the 5K course in the Sedona Marathon Event with some friends, and I decided that I’d walk the course if I have to, but I would at least try to run it.  

I trained for the event by running around in my neighborhood as my foot would tolerate it.  My goal each time I ran was to run as far as I could without stopping.  At first I couldn’t run much more than a mile, but I improved as time went on.  Earlier this week I actually ran 3.7 miles (a little over 5K) without stopping.  That was the farthest I have ever ran without stopping in my whole entire life.  I know that it may not be much to some people, but I was very proud.  

I felt confident that if the race was flat and at sea level that I could finish, but in Sedona, I wasn’t so sure.  Sedona has much higher altitude and it also has hills.  As a bonus added challenge to my goal, I have also been fighting a cold over the past two days.  I decided that I’d try to do my best anyway and see how it goes.  

Today the race started at 9:15am.  Me and three friends, Eric, Jordana and Carolyn, all carpooled up to Sedona last night and spent the night at a cute, locally run motel.  We woke up early this morning and had a light breakfast and then went down to the race.  

The “Sedona Marathon Event” consisted of a marathon, a half marathon, a 10K race and a 5K race.  Everyone who had registered in the race got a t-shirt and a “bib” with a number.  The bibs were color coated for the four different races, and every runner needed to pin their bib on their clothes in a visible location on the front part of their body.  

The full marathon started at 9am and everyone in the race had to herd themselves into a “corral” in front of the starting line before the race started.  At nine o’clock the runners for the marathon began their race.  Immediately the half marathoners corralled themselves at the starting line and their race began at 9:05am.  The 10K racers started at 9:10am and then me and my friends and the other 5K racers shuffled into the corral like cattle and waited until we could go at 9:15am.  

At the start of the race, I was jammed pretty much at the back of the corral and had to walk for the first few yards just because it was so crowded, but by the time I made it to the official starting line it was less crowded and I was able to jog at a slow pace.  There was a large mix of people in this race and the backdrop of the scenery of Sedona was very beautiful.  It was about 45 degrees fahrenheit and it felt quite cold.  

I concentrated on jogging a slow and steady pace that I thought I could maintain longterm in order to not ever walk or stop if I could help it.  There was a large variety of runners in the 5K.  Fit young adults were running, old people were running, disabled people were running, teenagers were running, even kids were running.  Little kids who had entered the race with their parents ran excitedly as moms and dads ran more steadily after them.  Some people were running with strollers.  Some people were wearing shirts or signs stating that they were running for cancer, or running for a loved one, or running some other cause.  I wondered what my cause was.  What was I running for?  I never really thought about a cause: just good health, I guess.  Yeah, that seems like a pretty good cause.  

My friends Eric and Jordana ran ahead of me pretty quickly, and they briefly looked back at me as though they expected me to keep up with them.  Yeah right!  Jordana kept the pact that she made back in August to train for the half marathon, and she ran it and finished it last month, and Eric, well…  Eric is a guy.  Eric entered today’s 5K on a whim.  He doesn’t even own jogging pants, and he was running the race in hiking pants.  I, however, did not for one second think that I would be able to keep up with Eric.  In all of my past experiences participating in active sports with guys, I have found that they annoying do great even if they don’t train, and they usually do better than me, even if I trained my ass off.  I supposed he would have no troubles in this race.  Of course he didn’t have any troubles, and he seemed to breeze through it, even beating Jordana to the finish line in the end.  My friend Carolyn ran more at my pace, which was nice for me, not that I really felt like I required a running partner.  For me the race was more about my own personal goals.  

The layout of the course for the 5K was sort of a circle.  The start and the finish line were in the same place.  The course ran down a paved path and then merged with the main highway.  After a short way along the highway, the course turned left onto a side road.  After a stretch on the side road, the course doubled back on itself at a turnaround point, and then turned right onto another road that circled through a hilly neighborhood.  After circling the neighborhood, the course headed back along the original path to the start/finish line.  

Along the first section I was getting passed by all sorts of people.  I got passed by old people, I got passed by people who appeared athletic, I got passed by people who did not appear athletic, I got passed by kids overflowing with energy, and I got passed by people pushing strollers.  I got passed by super skinny, 20-something year old girls, whose legs were so tiny I wondered how they carried themselves.  

By the point of the race where the course turns onto the side road, the shear numbers of people passing me seemed to decline.  The super high energy levels of some of the children were starting to visibly fade.  One kid lost his shoe and limped backwards along the course towards it.  Another girl, approximately 8 years old, sat crying with a skinned knee on the side of the road.  Two boys who looked 12 years old had stopped and were doubled over and panting, and another boy who looked 10 years old announced to his mom that this was really hard and he was going to run really fast so he could just get it over with.  

I kept up my slow and steady jogging pace and I began to pass up hoards of exhausted kids.  I also started passing several people who had begun to walk.  I made it to the turnaround point and doubled back.  Generally, people everywhere seemed happy.  There were people standing along the sidelines of the course cheering on the runners: “Good job, nice work, looking good” etc.  It started to seem warmer and the sun was shining and the day was really beautiful.  The views of the surrounding area and the big red rocks of Sedona were gorgeous.  I was actually enjoying myself.  


The course took a turn and went into the hilly neighborhood.  It went up a fairly steep hill.  I kept jogging, at a very slow pace, however I didn’t stop, and I didn’t slow to a walk either.  I passed several more people on the hill.  I found that I was one of the few people in my vicinity actually jogging up the hill and not walking, and it made me feel proud.   I passed the skinny legged girls on the way up the hill.  I had had my suspicions that their legs couldn’t really take them very far and now I was glad to know that I was correct.  

I made it up the hill, and by then Carolyn was behind me; she had to stop at a “porta potty.”  I didn’t want to wait for her because I was on a mission to see if I could finish without stopping or walking.  

People continued to cheer me and all the runners on.  I passed water stations without getting any, because I was worried it would break my pace.  I didn’t think I was skilled enough to jog and drink water at the same time, and I usually didn’t drink water on my practice runs at home anyway.  The downhill part of the course through the neighborhood was really nice.  I passed a boy and his dad; the dad was telling the boy that we were about 2/3 of the way done.  I actually felt pretty good.  I thought maybe I was going to make it.  I was amazed that I felt so good.  My foot was doing really well, although it was a little stiff, and my lungs were actually doing ok too!  

During the last third of the race I was passing numerous people who were walking, and it felt good to be passing people instead of them all passing me.  It was a nice feeling to know that some of the people who had smoked past me earlier couldn’t actually keep up that pace the entire time.  It made me feel more normal.  

It was really nice to see all the different people running the race.  It was inspiring to see people of different physical abilities working toward their own goals!  It was nice to know that my goal of running a 5K wasn’t necessarily a small goal, and although I sometimes felt like it, I wasn’t the “last person on the planet” to do it.  

As I rounded the last corner of the course, I saw the finish line in the distance and started to run faster toward it.  I felt really good.  I never would have guessed that I would actually HAVE FUN running a 5K, but I was having fun.  I was actually really enjoying myself.  I sprinted toward the finish line and felt so happy to know that I was completing another one of my “bucket list” items.  A group of people at the finish line were handing out medals to people, and a woman handed me a medal for finishing the race.  I thought maybe this was in error; I thought perhaps she thought I was finishing the 10K instead of the 5K.  Surprised, I asked her “I get a medal for running the 5K?” and she responded “Of course you do, good job!”  It was so cool, and it was nice to know that others understood how important these personal goals can be!  It may seem small to some people, but it is a big goal to those who have never done it before.  

It’s funny, now that I have checked “running a 5K” off my bucket list, I still don’t feel “done.”  Now that it’s crossed off, I think I might add “running a 10K” onto the list.  

Gorilla Trekking in Uganda

Seeing wild gorillas has been on my bucket list for years.  In 2012 my friend Corinne called me and asked if I would be interested in a tour through Africa with her that focused on seeing primates.  She had long wanted to see African apes and monkeys in the wild, and she was looking for a travel partner.  I was more than happy to be her travel partner!  We had decided upon a tour through Uganda and Rwanda in March of 2013.  The tour focused on seeing chimpanzees, mountain gorillas, various monkeys, and other African animals.  On March 10th, 2013, seeing mountain gorillas was a fantasy dream that was finally going to come true. That is, if we were lucky enough to see them on our trek!

We had been traveling through Uganda for several days with a young tour guide named Jacob and had a nice time seeing a lot of sights.  On the morning of our gorilla trek Jacob picked us up at our lodge and took us to Bwindi Impenetrable Forest so that we could meet with our trekking group at 8am.  It was raining, which didn’t seem to be uncommon so far during our days in Uganda.  Gorilla trekking is said to be strenuous.  Of course in order to see gorillas one needs to hike to where the gorillas live, and that is in the deep jungle in the mountains and far from people.  Gorilla trekking involves hiking at altitude, up steep grades, though thick vegetation, usually for long periods of time, and sometimes in bad weather.  Corinne and I were prepared.  We had our walking sticks, we had long sleeve shirts and long pants and gloves and rain gear to deal with the elements.  Our hiking boots were laced and ready, and our pants were tucked into our socks to prevent insects or vines from crawling up our legs.  We had a packed lunch and plenty of water in our backpacks for the day.  We were ready and we were excited!  We arrived early and were the first at the meeting place.  Someone there led us into a small building and started playing a video for us.  The video went over some rules of what to do and what not to do on a gorilla trek.  The video also explained how gorillas are tracked and explained some history of mountain gorillas.

Corinne and I excited to start the trek!!!

Corinne and I excited to start the trek!!!


Mountain gorillas are very endangered animals that neared extinction, and in the 1980s there were only 254 mountain gorillas left on the planet.  They were threatened by loss of habitat, war, poaching, and disease.  Conservation efforts have helped them and today there are about 880 mountain gorillas left in this world.  However they are still one of the most endangered species on the planet.  The mountain gorilla is highly celebrated in Uganda, and in the town we were staying it seemed that all locals loved the gorilla and understand how important gorillas are to tourism and the economy in the area.  In fact $100 of our $500 fee for our permit to enter the gorillas’ forest is going to help the communities in the surrounding areas.

Gorillas live and travel together in a group.  There are different groups of gorillas in the forest and some groups are considered “habituated” and some are not.  The groups of gorillas that tourists are allowed to track and see are the habituated groups.  Being habituated means that the group of gorillas is followed by people every day.  Trackers constantly are following the gorillas and every day a group of tourists is allowed to be near them for an hour and then leave.  This has been going on for many years.  These habituated gorillas have grown accustomed to humans and generally do not see humans as a threat.  They have gotten used to people staring at them, talking near them, and taking photos, and it is a part of their daily lives.  There are several habituated groups in the area that tourists can see.  Trackers and locals have gotten to know them and can identify individuals in the groups and have come to love them.

There are several rules for tourists when endeavoring on a gorilla trek.  Gorillas are powerful animals and can be dangerous, and also human contact has potential to transmit respiratory diseases to the gorillas.   Rules have been implemented for safety of humans and gorillas.  People are not allowed to trek to see gorillas if they have a cold.  Also, nobody younger than 15 years of age is allowed to trek with gorillas.  Some of the other rules outlined included a distance limit, meaning staying at least seven meters from a gorilla at all times.  It is never allowed to touch a gorilla, even if it approaches you, or touches you.  Eating or drinking near the gorillas is prohibited, and we are not allowed to harass gorillas in any way.  If a gorilla does touch one of us, which we are told sometimes the younger ones will approach and touch people out of curiosity, then we are instructed to take a submissive posture and do not look at or touch the gorilla in return.  If a gorilla threatens us, we are to crouch or hunch down and look at the ground; we are to not make eye contact and to appear as submissive and as unthreatening as possible.  It was stressed that we should not run.  Running may provoke a gorilla to chase and harm you.  Yikes!

The video also explained how we were going to track and attempt to find gorillas.  What happens is that every day the habituated groups of gorillas are tracked, and at the end of the day the GPS coordinates for a group is set at the last place they were seen.  Very early the next morning trackers start from the last known point and set out to track and find them again.  Gorillas are tracked by looking for evidence of disturbance to vegetation, looking for tracks and dung left by gorillas, listening for noises and smelling for their distinct odor.  The trackers start looking for gorillas hours before tourist even arrive.  Tourist trek leaders are in communication with the trackers in attempt to lead tourists to the gorillas.  Tracking gorillas can take as little as half an hour to 10 or more hours.  When they find them, the trackers will alert the tour guide leader as to where they are, and the trackers will stay with the gorillas as they constantly move about.  It is said that a tourist trekking group is successful in seeing gorillas more than 90% of the time.  Of course there is no guarantee that tourists will get to see gorillas on any given day, and of course there are no refunds if gorillas are not seen.

As the video kept playing in the room, more and more people started to trickle in.  The room became louder and louder.  There were four young women in particular who didn’t pay any attention to the video and spoke loudly amongst themselves.  I eventually gave up trying to watch the video and just waited to be told what to do next.

Soon we were all led outside and all tourists were separated into trekking groups.  Once separated we met with our trek leader and other helpers on the trek.  Our trek leader was named Rita and we had a group of eight tourists.  The tourists consisted of me and Corinne, a dude from Phoenix (of all places) and his foreign girlfriend who was not talkative, and four girls from Australia, who happened to be the noisy women in the building while we were trying to watch the video.  Rita had a very athletic build.  She had long, braided black hair, which seemed unusual for the region as most all Ugandan women I’ve seen had a closely cropped haircut.  Rita carried a machete and she was strikingly sexy.  She had a no-nonsense attitude and a tough as nails appearance.  I got the impression that we needed to take her very seriously.  Rita was accompanied by several men with machetes who were assistant guides.  Rita went over the same rules from the video of what we can and can’t do around gorillas and told us that there was no guarantee of seeing them today.  She told us that we will be tracking group “H,” which stands for Habinyanja group.  She informed us that group H was last seen yesterday quite far from our starting point and they are suspected to be quite far away today, but she cannot tell us how far or if we will even see them at all.  She told us the trackers haven’t found them yet.  She stopped talking for a moment and looked up at the sky which incessantly dripped rain down upon her.  She looked around for a moment with a look of disgust and swore quietly to herself “Jesus Christ the rain!”  I thought it was odd that she seemed to be angry about the rain, after all, it had been raining all week and it’s been raining all morning, so to me it didn’t seem like much more would make a big difference.

Rita continued to explain the day and told us that the trek would be difficult and she recommended that every tourist hire a porter.  Rita explained that a porter is a local man who works as an independent contractor and is not hired by the park.  She explained that a porter will carry a hiker’s bag and assist the hiker during the trek.  “He can push you and pull you along the trail, and help you to not fall”  Some of us looked around at each other questioningly.  One of the Australian women asked “Do we really need to be pushed along the trail?  Should we be expected to fall without the help of a porter?”  Rita’s response was “Yes you will fall without their help, of that I am very sure.”

On the drive to the forest earlier that morning Jacob had told Corinne and I that it is highly recommended to hire a porter, they cost about $15 for the whole day, which is a good wage for locals.  He told us that working as a porter is a highly desirable job and that men will walk from 2 hours or more away to meet with the gorilla trekkers in hopes of getting hired as a porter for the day.  Jacob told us that a lot of the porters actually used to be poachers in the area, but now rules are stricter against poaching and there is a growing market for porters to help trekking tourists.  Jacob said that hiring a porter helps decrease the amount of poaching in the area and provides a good income for local families, and who better to know the area?  This almost made me want to hire two porters for the day.  Instead I hired just one.  Every tourist in our group hired a porter, except for the Phoenix guy and his girlfriend.  The spoke nervously to each other and then decided not to hire porters.  They struck me as being on a very tight budget and it seemed that their reasoning behind not hiring porters had more to do with being broke than with them possessing excellent hiking skills.

My porter’s name was Ennis, and I found it somewhat difficult to communicate with him.  I wasn’t sure if it was because his English had an unusual dialect or if it was because English was not his first language.  In any case, he smiled and shook my hand and seemed helpful and he was very, very nice.  He took my backpack and away we went, following Rita and other assistant guides.

The trail along one of the easier sections, where I could hold my camera

The trail along one of the easier sections, where I could hold my camera

The hiking immediately was crazy difficult.  We went directly into the mountains and directly up the side of a mountain.  The trail was covered in slick mud and the trails were incredibly steep.  Parts of the trail were approaching 60% grades and I scrambled to climb up.  Ennis was amazing, he seemed to find magical footholds and held my hand and pulled me up crazy steep parts of trails.  We had to duck under thick vines and step over other vines that grew along the floor of the jungle that were a constant challenge not to trip over.  Somewhere ahead of us men with machetes and Rita helped to clear the way by cutting through thick vegetation.  Within about 20 minutes of hiking it became clear who the strong hikers were in our group and who the slower hikers were.  I was in the slow group.  Of the eight tourists in our group, five were fast and three were slow.  The three slowest hikers were myself, Corinne, and one of the Australian girls who named Hollie.  The other five hikers were ahead of us and we brought up the rear with our porters.  Occasionally Rita would stop and ask how we were doing.  The Phoenix guy and his girlfriend were quiet and managed to hike the terrain quite well considering they didn’t hire porters.  However, they did seem to have their fair share of sliding and falling and they were definitely the muddiest of all of us.  Some of the other’s porters would help them through the difficult sections anyway.  The three faster Australian girls talked non-stop and were incredibly annoying the entire time; I was actually grateful to be distanced from them a lot of the time by being a slower hiker.

The trail relentlessly went up, there were crazy switchbacks and vines everywhere and the mud was deep and slick.  Of the slow hikers, it appeared that I was the strongest, and Hollie was the weakest.  Hollie struggled and had to take many breaks to catch her breath, she often needed two porters to help pull and push her up certain sections.  The second porter that helped her was my porter, Ennis, and helped Hollie a lot, often leaving me on my own to make my own way.  He told me “I see you are strong” and he let me know that he wanted to help those who need it more.  I noticed that Hollie didn’t always have her water handy and I offered her a bottle of mine, which she refused, I also noticed that Ennis didn’t have any water for himself and I offered him some; he took a small amount, seemingly only out of politeness.  I also noticed that he didn’t carry anything of his own at all, he was only carrying my bag.

During the trek Rita had to stop several times to wait for those of us bringing up the rear.  One time when she stopped she asked “Are you doing ok?”  at which point the three faster Australian girls all answered that they were fine and ready to keep going.  Rita snapped at them:  “I know you are fine, I was not asking you.  I was asking Hollie, Corinne and Melissa.”  At that point Rita decided that the three of us would be moved to the front and the rest of the hikers would follow us.  This plan was short lived as within a few minutes the other three Australian girls passed us all anyway, and they teased Hollie as they passed her by.  After that Corinne and I secretly referred to them as “The Australian Bitches.”  Weren’t they supposed to be Hollie’s friend?  We could plainly see that Hollie was trying her hardest to keep up and she was suffering.  I felt sorry for her.  I have been in her shoes before and it was not fun.  It is no fun to be the slowest hiker in a group of hikers, suffering while everyone else seems to be having a good time, or is at least doing better than you are.  Hollie seemed ashamed and embarrassed, and she rebuffed or ignored any attempts made by Corinne or me to help her, so we let the porters do their jobs and we concentrated on our own hiking.  It was hard enough for us, anyway.

We seemed to climb one mountain and then go steeply down the other side, then back up another mountain, then down again.  In addition to all the mud and vines, we came across some vines that had wicked, sharp thorns and had to be avoided more carefully.  Also, occasionally there were swarms of fire ants and/or safari ants, that had to be jumped over.  Both types of ants swarm and live in colonies and can cause horrible bruising, bites and stings that can leave the skin horribly painful.  This of course added even more adventure to the trek.

Image of stings from fireants (not mine)

Image of stings from fireants (not mine)

Then we came to a flat area that looked like a giant bog.  There were giant puddles of water and some logs laid over the puddles and deep mud everywhere.  It seemed like a huge area and appeared like it was about 200 meters across.   We had to get to the other side.  This is when I remembered Rita swearing earlier about the rain.  This is probably the section that she was worried about.  We had to cross this by walking along logs and balancing over the deep mud and water.  There was precious little to use as hand-holds, and if someone were to fall, the mud and water was deep, up to a person’s knee or thigh.  I only found out how deep it was by watching others who fell in.  The logs over the area were very slippery.  Ennis went ahead of me and held my hand along the way.  I did surprisingly well and only slipped a foot off of a log here and there, getting mud up to only my socks.  Some other hikers fell in a lot deeper and got covered in mud, but generally the porters helped everyone enough to prevent anyone from falling completely over and becoming completely submerged in the mud.  No one had a muddy face or head by the time we were across.  After that section was completed, we had to hike directly back up a mountain again.

I fell into pace again as we hiked through slick areas, hanging vines, fire ants and vines on the jungle floor that constantly wound around my feet if I wasn’t careful.  Ennis helped Hollie and me equally.  Hollie’s own porter held onto her full time to help keep her upright.  Corinne seemed to be doing ok, I really was not sure how how things were going for her, because she was behind me, whereas Hollie was in front of me.

During a moment when Ennis was making his way back to me from Hollie he stopped suddenly as though something stung him and he rubbed his eye.  He ignored it for a second and took my hand and I kept on hiking, then he rubbed his eye with his other hand and told me that he cut his eye with a thorny vine.  I looked at his eye and his upper eyelid was torn and bleeding.  The eye itself seemed ok; he held pressure on it for a few minutes and then he stopped bleeding.  He told me he would be fine.  I was glad he didn’t injure his eyeball.  Suddenly I noticed he had blood on his hand.  The next chance I got I looked at my own hand to check for wounds.  I didn’t see any.  I didn’t want to be a dick and act like I was afraid of his blood, but I definitely also didn’t want to be exposed to human blood out here in Africa.  The HIV rate of infection is very high in these areas and I definitely didn’t want to expose myself to Ennis’ blood.  We stopped a moment after Ennis stopped bleeding and he washed his face and hands with some of my water.  I stealthily examined my hand again for open wounds, and not seeing any I went on hiking, and used Ennis’ helping hands when I needed them.

After hiking through all of this crazy terrain for about 4 hours, Rita stopped us again and we sat down to eat our packed lunches.  The porters returned everyone’s backpacks to their owners and then they separated themselves from the tourists and sat  away from all of us.   All of the tourists sat and ate some lunch.  The porters didn’t eat or drink anything.  The Australian bitches talked non-stop and seemed not to include Hollie anymore, but Hollie didn’t seem to want to talk to them or to Corinne or me or anyone else either.  The Phoenix dude and his girl stuck together, not speaking with anyone else, and everyone seemed tired and hungry and appreciated a break.  After eating, some of us offered leftover food to some of the porters, which they accepted and then they collected our bags and we started hiking again.  The “trail” really ceased to be a trail anymore and we walked over vegetation and through stinging nettles.

After hiking a little longer Rita stopped us and told us that the trackers have found the gorillas and that we have about another hour to hike, although she still cannot guarantee that we will see them.  She told us that we will need to hike through very tall stinging nettles and that we will need to put on gloves and roll down our long sleeves at this point.  We did as we were told and hiked through tall stinging nettles on the face of a steep mountain for about an hour.  It was very difficult to balance and we nearly fell several times.  The nettles were stinging through my pants and my legs felt as though they were on fire.  Then Rita stopped us and told us we were now very close to the gorillas and that we should be able to see them.  The porters would not be coming with us to see the gorillas.  Ennis handed me my backpack and I took out my good camera and spare batteries.  I took a small digital camera as well to shoot some videos.  I was so excited.  Ennis waited behind with the other porters.  Rita and a select few men with machetes led us to the area where the gorillas were.  It was amazing how much harder it was to walk without Ennis right by my side.  I was slipping and sliding on crushed nettles and nearly falling with every step.  Rita explained that her team would work on clearing vegetation to obtain decent views of the gorillas and told us to please wait to take pictures until after the vegetation had been cleared.  We walked a short ways farther and then stopped, Rita told us that gorillas were around us and men with machetes began to cut vegetation.  Rita herded us together and told us to stand still.

Suddenly we saw a fuzzy black animal behind some plants, it turned out to be a female gorilla!  She was very close to us.  The Australian bitches were in the front of the group and whipped out their cameras and dominated the view of the gorilla.  They made no attempts to be polite or to make sure those behind them could see well (which we couldn’t.)  The gorilla was still very cool to see, and she didn’t seem to care about us at all.  She seemed to know we were there, but it seemed as though we were an uninteresting part of the landscape not worth worrying over.  The gorilla actually came out of the vegetation and walked directly in front of us, casually glancing at us as she calmly walked by!  I got a great photo of her as she walked by!  It was incredible.  I held my breath and thought to myself “Wow!  I’m actually in Uganda seeing mountain gorillas!  This is amazing!”


There were two baby gorillas nearby playing in the area.  I was barely able to see them past the Australian bitches.  Rita noticed this and led me and Corinne up and behind the bitches to another vantage point and we were able to see the baby gorillas playing with each other.  They were so cute and fuzzy.  Their faces were adorable!  They looked like they were wearing fuzzy rugs over their bodies they were so furry.  I had an incredible desire to pick them up and hold them, of course that would be impossible, but I imagined it anyway.


Rita and the other trackers then located the silverback gorilla of the group and he was just beyond some tall stinging nettles and vines and I couldn’t see him at all.  After a short time the silverback walked up near to where we were standing, and he actually pulled out some plants and made a clear view of himself.  He sat incredibly close to our huddled group of tourists.  It was so exciting!  He had a baby gorilla near him and didn’t seem to pay much attention to the baby gorilla, or to us.  He was way closer to our group than the required 7 meters of distance and I nervously looked back toward Rita to see if she would lead us back away from the great animal, but she didn’t appear to be going to.

Instead Rita talked and told us facts about gorillas and she didn’t even whisper, she spoke at a normal volume.  I glanced nervously between Rita and the huge silverback as she spoke.  After a few minutes I relaxed because it seemed apparent that the silverback didn’t care about us at all.  He sat eating stinging nettles, he would rip the leaves off and shove them in his mouth and eat and eat.  Of course the Australian bitches were at the front of our group and they were talking among themselves and taking photos, each one posing so they could have a photo of themselves with the silverback close by in the background.   I couldn’t get a clear shot of him without them in the photo, so I just gave up and took one with them in it anyway.  After they all got their photos they started ignoring him and speaking among themselves.  I even heard one of them say that she was satisfied that she had seen everything she needed to and she didn’t think everyone needed to stay the entire hour here.  By then I wanted to shove them all out of the way and hope the gorilla would maul them, but instead I simply asked them to move so others could see.  They acted annoyed as though they were put out by having to move for someone else, but they did move, and Corinne and I got to get some good photos and we made sure that the others were able to see and get photos as well.


I wanted to try to see if I could get a photo of me kneeling and have the giant silverback behind me, but he ended up moving before that was an option.


And when he did move, he suddenly sat up and walked directly toward us!  It was scary and amazing and incredible all at once!  He walked toward us for a moment and then he turned to the left and walked away from us.  My heart pounded the moment when he got up and came toward us, he was already so close.  People of the group collectively held their breath and a guide told us to stay still and not to run away.  I happened to get that moment on video.  It was amazing.

We watched another baby and a mother gorilla nearby.  None of the adults seemed to be interested in tourists, but one of the babies stood and curiously stared at us for a long time.  He was so cute!  When the silverback walked by and moved on, the mother and the baby followed him, but the after a few steps the baby paused and looked back at us, as if to say “Are you coming along too?”  He just about melted my heart.


We got to watch two other babies play in some trees and they looked like they were having fun, climbing up and swinging around.  They almost looked as though they were laughing.  I got to watch a young adult climb a tree with a stick in his hand.  The stick had ants on it and he ate some of the ants off the stick.  I could have stayed and watched them all day, but then the magical hour was over.  Our time with the gorillas was up, and we had to leave.  To me, for the hour I was with the gorillas, it seemed that time stood still and I was in a magical place.  It was as though I entered a dream and became privy to the secret world of these incredible creatures.  It was so amazing!


We were all on a high as we prepared to walk back to our starting point and go back into the world of human civilization.  Hollie, Corinne and I took our places near the end of the line of hikers and I was glad when the Australian bitches were out of earshot.  Hollie was almost immediately suffering and seemed to be utterly spent and exhausted from the 6 hour hike to get to the gorillas.  We had a long way to go to get back.  Her bitchy “friends” never even asked how she was feeling and they left her in the back of the line without a word.  It was clear Hollie was miserable and was going to have a hard time making it back and I felt very sorry for her.  Since Ennis was also helping her, I was sentenced to walk at her very slow pace, which overall I didn’t really mind, but I just felt awkward as Hollie seemed to not like having me around.  Corinne and her porter passed us and were soon out of sight.  The entire group didn’t stay together on the way back, like we did for the way out.  I supposed this made sense because we were all going to meet up again at the starting point.  Rita let her assistants walk back with the faster hikers, and she stayed back with Hollie and me.  She asked if Hollie needed anything, and I could see Hollie reaching the point of tears.  I noticed Hollie was wearing two pairs of pants and I asked her about it because I thought she was probably too hot (because I certainly felt hot.)  When Rita found out that Hollie indeed had on two layers of clothing she made Hollie strip down to one layer, and that seemed to help Hollie become a little bit more comfortable.  Still, we had a long, long way to go and the pace was very slow.  A few times I offered Hollie some water and asked if she needed anything.  Hollie seemed only to be embarrassed and wish that I wasn’t around, so I stopped asking and just walked.  At one point I asked Rita if I could pee somewhere and she told me “No, you hold it!” and I hiked on wondering how long I could possibly hold it for.  Eventually Rita let me pee, but I had to do it while she stood guard.  Hollie took several breaks and told Rita she was fighting against an urge to have “a funny tummy.”  Surprisingly Hollie managed to hold it until we got back several hours later.   As we walked back to the starting site and the area of the toilets Hollie’s “friends” were loudly talking amongst themselves.  They didn’t even notice when Hollie and I came back to the meeting area.  Hollie spent a long time in the toilets and Rita and the rest of the group waited until everyone was together.  When Hollie joined us her friends teased her and said “Oh Hollie, you will never believe this!  The people tracking group ‘M’ only had to hike 30 minutes before they saw gorillas!  Hahaha!  Can you believe that we had to hike so far?!  Hahahaha!!”  The Australian bitches cackled and made fun of Hollie for having to hike such a long distance in misery, while other lucky tourists only had to hike for one hour.  Hollie responded with some type of curse and then fell silent.

Rita filled out certificates of successful gorilla trekking for all the hikers and everyone got to say how they felt about the experience and everyone, including Hollie,  agreed that the hike was a long and challenging one, but the gorillas were indeed awesome and so very worth it!  I was so happy!  The gorillas were truly magnificent!  And I was lucky enough to see several of them.  The hike was amazing, it was one of the craziest hikes with the most obstacles I’ve ever encountered.  I loved it!!

I got my photo taken with Ennis and I paid him his $15 for the day and tipped him another $15.  It was a great deal and I was so proud of him for helping me and also for helping Hollie too.  It was a really great experience and I felt so lucky to have the opportunity to do it!  It was one of the best days of my life!


I will try to add a link here to all of my video footage from that day.

I Vomited on a Shark!

Shark diving in South Africa – I gave my breakfast to a shark, and now I’ve got nothing to eat.   

Not far from Cape Town, South Africa, exists a place called “Shark Alley” it’s one of the few places that I know where tourists can get onto a boat and see great white sharks in the wild and it is also to get into a dive tank alongside the boat and see them from underwater.  In the summer of 2010 I decided to do this.  

My goal for the day started out: see a shark, maybe see one underwater. My new goal (after achieving the first two), was to puke on a great white shark. This goal was also achieved. 

Ok, ok, so I know I get sea sick. I KNOW this. I knew this ahead of time.  I also knew I really wanted to see sharks.  I also knew that Dramamine has helped in the past.  However, the key word here is in the past. Holy shit!  

I took two Dramamine before getting on the boat to head into the ocean. I felt pretty good, did fine for the entire ride out toward “shark alley,” but after arriving there, the boat was just sitting at seam rocking and lurching, then I started feeling green. 

While I focused on trying not to vomit, I was forced to ignore all instructions on how to get on the wet suit and how to jump into the shark cage.  Instead, I stared at the land, sucked on a lollipop (which is supposed to help with sea sickness but does not), and I had to sit for several minutes. 

The crew on the ship was a bunch of macho young men and they were very happy and throwing chum everywhere to attract sharks to the area. Within only a few minutes sharks appeared. It was really cool. I got to see them come near the boat and people were getting all suited up to dive into the cage and see them up close. I managed to take one picture of a shark fin protruding from the water and then had to sit down again. A really nice volunteer helper lady from England and another one from California basically dressed me in a wet suit, because I told them that I really wanted to see the sharks underwater even though I could barely stand up and function.  I laid on a bench like a small child and let them pull a wet suit over my body.  I handed them arms and legs as needed to achieve this.  I really thought that if I could just get into the tank in the water that I would not be as sea sick. 


After being dressed by nice ladies, I had to spend several minutes deep breathing and fighting nausea.  I then managed to get into the cage and went down for a few moments at a time, the cage is near the surface of the water and one has to simply dive under the surface of the water with a mask on and look at sharks as they swim by.  Ok cool.  However I immediately realized that the sea sickness actually got worse in the cage.  I had a hard time breathing and felt as though I may drown.  Pumping adrenaline enabled me to manage to go under a few times and see some sharks.  It was really amazing.  One came right up near me and I looked into his huge black eye as he swam by. I felt safe in the cage and thought to myself that he looked just like sharks do on TV. He was very beautiful and amazing to see. But, after a few minutes I had to ask the crew to let me out; I was about to vomit in my mask.  It was a little nerve-wracking and scary to come out of the top of the tank right at the surface of the water with two very large great white sharks circling the cage. But I made it out, probably largely due to the fact that the crew pulled me out, I think.

Then, I had to suffer in my own personal hell for the next two hours.  It was  some of the longest hours of my life.   Ug, horrible horrible sea sickness that had no end. The lurching of the boat and the smell of chum and the young macho crew guys all screaming and shouting made me so sick.  I sat with my wet suit on, sitting in a pitching boat in the Atlantic ocean, freezing.  I managed to get my wetsuit halfway off and sat shivering and staring out at sea attempting to fight down the nausea.  It’s probably the first time in my life that I didn’t mind feeling as though I was freezing.  It didn’t bother me at all compared to the horrible nausea and waves of sickness.  In fact I wished I could only be freezing and not nauseated, freezing was so much better. 

Then the puking started.  I vomited over the edge of the boat, and all along side of the boat.  I’m pretty sure the macho crew men thought I was gross; I was gross.  I thought I would feel better puking, and I did, for about 5 minutes….  Then more puking.  Lots and lots of puking.  I saw a great white shark swim right under me.  I puked on him too.  Behind me I could hear the other passengers of the boat, they were so happy, they were so thrilled, they went on and on about how this was one of the most mind-blowing and amazing experiences of their lives…  It was one of the most gut-blowing experiences of mine.  The skipper handed me another lollipop, which I took one look and and vomited some more.  Then I tried to open it, oh why was it so god damned difficult to open, oohhhh, so frustrating.. more vomiting.  I managed to peel off my wet suit which was really bothering me at this time and I stood lurched over the deck of the boat in my bikini in the freezing Atlantic ocean barfing on sharks.  Small fish were eating my vomited breakfast.  Then I had nothing more to puke and was simply making disgusting retching noises and basically crying.  The lady volunteers were really nice.  The macho crew men sometimes stared at me in disgust and pity.  The nice English lady and the California lady tried to comfort me and they both told me that I wasn’t the only one to ever do this on the boat.  I didn’t really care or find that very comforting. I just wanted to get a few more pictures of the sharks or look at them a little more, but could not find the strength to get my camera or walk to the area where they were “chumming.”  I never made it back there before the end of the trip and never got another picture.  

I was happy that I at least did get to see the sharks, and that I was able to go in the dive take for even a short time and see the sharks near me underwater.  I was however and still am sad that I didn’t get to see them more or spend more time in the shark tank.  I think I would have really loved it if my stomach could handle it.  I think it would be great fun to do if I didn’t barf the whole time.  Good news is that I was given free ginger beer afterward to help settle my stomach.  I love ginger beer, so that was a bonus.

So, how many people can say they vomited on a shark? I suppose it was a good thing to check off a life’s list of goals!

Hiking Mt. Kilimanjaro, my story from July 2010

I think a lot about traveling.  I think about future travels and also about past travels.  When I travel I like to try to keep notes or a journal if possible.  Sometimes I’m better at it than others.  I plan on remodeling or posting some of my notes from previous trips on this blog occasionally.  I know I have shared this one with others in the past.  It was such an amazing experience that I decided to put it on this blog, so here it is: (some names have been changed)



This is something I wrote on July 8, 2010, after an epic journey through Africa!  



Holy crap! It’s hard for me to come to grips, but I just hiked the highest free standing mountain in the world! 5895 meters high!!! I just came down after 7 days on Mt. Kilimanjaro, Tanzania. This was by far the most extreme hiking and camping that I have ever done. I’ll just have to say it again: holy crap.

So, I may as well get on with my story for those who have interest.

I was just dropped off from an overland truck tour and I waited in Arusha, Tanzania for the shuttle to take me to Moshi, at the base of the mountain. Of course the shuttle came an hour and a half late. I pondered life and my vacation as I sat and waited. The people at the shuttle station told me I could set my luggage outside the station, that it was safe.  The reason that it was safe was that a man in a beret with an AK47 was guarding it. I sat around for a while with Esteban from my tour group, he also got off in Arusha to do some volunteer work and will be hiking Kili later this month. We ate a buffet breakfast for about 3 hours straight, or well, Esteban ate for at least that long, it was a good way to kill time. Finally he took a cab to his hostel and I was alone for the first time in 40 days, still waiting for my shuttle. I really miss the people from my tour group a lot already, it was such a great travel experience.

As I sat there I watched large groups of people get on other shuttles and african men jump on the shuttles and tie luggage to the roof. People were walking around with live chickens in their hands and people in uniforms wandering about with large firearms, I smiled to myself that this seemed normal to me at this point, I fricken love Africa.

So anyway, I eventually did make it to the hotel in Moshi. Dana wasn’t there yet. She didn’t arrive until 11pm. I was very happy to see her. She brought some gear along for me that I packed for this hike two months ago and left with her to meet me with.  Now I had everything I needed except I still needed to rent a “warm jacket” from the hotel.  


We got some sleep for the night.  The next morning we got up early and went to look at rental items.  The rental room of the hotel was packed with what appeared to be people’s donated gear and clothing.  A man in the room offered assistance by digging through piles of clothes and letting me try them on.  I found a “warm jacket.”  It was a ridiculously huge puffy down coat, it took up half of my backpack.

We each had packed a daypack to carry and we could also pack a large backpack for a porter to carry. (The “warm jacket” took up half of my large backpack)
We met our tour guide, Abdi. We met Bill and Danny, who were in the group with us to go up the mountain. We had ourselves a little group of four hopeful summit achievers and we four hikers turns out needed 16 people to help us up the mountain. We had Abdi the leader, Godfrey, the assistant guide, a cook whose name I don’t know and Kitenja, who was our food server also working as a porter as we ascended, and we had 12 porters to haul shit up and down the mountain. Bill and Danny were from Colorado, but Bill has lived in Uganda the past 4 years and Danny lives in Taos.

Turns out I had booked not the easiest route (my mistake). I actually booked the most scenic route that had an extra day on the mountain for altitude acclimitazation and is known also as the “whiskey route”, as apposed to the much more popular “coca cola route”. The whiskey route is termed this because it is much more hard core (again, didn’t really intend to plan it that way – shit). I really had just picked it because it had an extra day and a fairly high success rate to reach the summit, as well and it said it was scenic. Really my only goal when picking a route was to pick the route that gets me to the top.  If I had known that the Machame route was considered for “the hardcore hiker” I never would have picked it.  But these are things that aren’t easy to know until you get there. 

The first day was hiking into the rainforest surrounding the mountain. The next several days were above the clouds and above the tree line. It was scenic, very very beautiful and was crazy to see the top of the mountain (kibo) from below. “Pole pole” was repeated over and over, it means slowly slowly in swahili. It was reported to be best to hike up Kilimanjaro (commonly just called “kili”) slowly for best altitude acclimitazation.

The porters were crazy to watch. They carried so much crap. Carried it on their backs and their heads. I saw my backpack go by on someone’s head while that person had another very large backpack on their back. The porters were carrying so much and would just stroll by us. They carried luggage, water, tables, chairs, some had portable toilets (our tour group didn’t use these), they carried food and of course their own personal items. The porters were all very friendly and would say “jambo” (hello), “pole pole” (slowly slowly), “hakuna matata” (no worries) and “mambo” (how are you?), and we were only taught to say “poa” (cool/good) in return, so I guess we needed to feel good the whole way. 


Overall I would say I excelled at the “pole pole” style of hiking.  We hiked a lot everyday.  We always hiked very slowly, which was exactly my style.

The third day on the mountain was ridiculously cold. I had decent gear, and did okay. I didn’t even need to use my stupid crazy “warm jacket” yet and was getting very sick of stuffing it into my pack repeatedly, as it was hard to do. We hiked with Godfrey as our leader most of the time and hung out in a mess tent and were served food by Kitenja. The food was pretty good, soup every day and a lot of fried stuff, lots of tea. I even got special food because I was the vegetarian. Unfortunately for me, I got stomach sickness, which was likely just a continuation from my being ill previously toward the end of my overland tour, but all the dirt on the mountain and lack of running water probably didn’t help my situation, blah blah blah, (what I’m trying to say is it was less than hygenic on the mountain), it all probably added to the sickness. Also, by day three on the mountain I noted mold growing in my camelback. I tried to kill it with chlorine tablets, but it was still there. I didn’t really have a choice but to continue to drink from it. So, the “runny tummy” continued. Fun times on the mountain (sarcastic voice).

Along the way up one day we saw a man with a huge gash/cut on his head, he had two doctors with him who were sewing him up while he sat there. We saw the sewn up man the next day still going, I think I would have turned back down if that were me. 


I had my own issues to attend anyway.  I had had diarrhea all throughout the hike and had to stop at about every “toilet” along the way and also make some other stops in various places to make my own “toilet.”  The toilets along the camps were sort of like outhouses in that they were little wooden shacks, only they didn’t have “seat” toilets, they had what was called “long drops,” which means they had a wooden floor with a hole cut into the bottom that one has to squat over and aim into.  The hole really weren’t that big, usually 6 inches by 12 inches or sometimes smaller.  These things were usually disgusting, with poop and urine around the hole from people whose aim wasn’t that great.  My aim wasn’t always that great either.  There are a lot of challenges to Kilimanjaro’s toilets.  Challenges include:  wearing multiple layers, having tired legs from hiking, slipping on pee or poop, feeling like crap, being very cold, and not breathing easily due to altitude.  I almost preferred to go behind a rock along the trail. 

We seemed to spend several days hiking “around” kibo, the peak or upper part of the mountain. I kept looking up at it and thinking it looked crazy high up there. The 5th campsite on the mountain was at Barafu camp, around 14,000 feet. We got there in the afternoon. We ate some dinner and spoke with Abdi for a while regarding the climb.  Abdi knew that I was frequenting the toilets and asked me how I felt.  I told him I felt ok.  I definitely didn’t want to tell him anything otherwise because I didn’t want him to tell me I was too ill to hike to the top.  Abdi asked me if I had a headache; I told him no.  He asked me if I had diarrhea; I said yes.  He then proceeded to ask me if I had it more than six times per hour or if it were bloody; I told him no.  He told me that I would be fine.  ‘Jeez,’ I thought to myself ‘if I had diarrhea six times per hour or if it were bloody that would be pretty extreme.  That’s his cutoff for ‘being fine?’‘   


We had to try to get some sleep and wake up at 11pm to hike to the summit in attempt to summit by sunrise. Me and Dana did manage to get some sleep before we left, but we were very excited, I was also pretty nervous. Nerves seemed to run high in the camp, as Dana and I were about to go to sleep we heard the couple trying to get some rest in a tent near us (the girl was very hard to hear):
Girl: “move over.”
Boy: “I am over.”
Girl: (too quiet to understand)
Boy: “I am fucking over, how fucking far do you think I can move over? I’m already halfway off my mattress, I cannot fucking move over any farther.”
Me and Dana heard this just busted out laughing, it was difficult to stop laughing. Anyway like I said, we did manage to get some sleep. 


Kitenja woke us up at 11pm, we got some tea and biscuits. It was time for my “warm jacket” to come out, I thought about how I hoped it would be worth hauling it around. (it was so worth it). I wore a long underwear shirt, one short sleeved shirt, one long sleeved shirt, a fleece and the ginormously huge and puffy rented “warm jacket” on the top half of my body. I had a balaclava (robber-type head mask) and a stocking hat and the hood from the “warm jacket” on my head. Long underwear bottoms, digusting hiking pants that I had worn the past 4 days and a pair of “rain pants” on the bottom. Two wool hiking liner socked and one pair of wool socks and my hiking boots. I wore very thick gloves rated “warmest” and designed for “those with cold hands”. I had my daypack with me. Abdi told us that any water outside of the pack would freeze, and water in the pack may also freeze. We were told to keep our cameras inside our jackets as the batteries would freeze and not work. My daypack had about three liters of water.

The summit climb:

So, at midnight we started out the hike to the summit of Kilimanjaro, Kibo is the name of the upper peak and Uhuru point the highest point and our goal, with Stella point being a high point where large glaciers are along the way.
So, like I said we were using the Machame route, and apparently the ascent to the summit along this route is more steep than other routes, much to my dismay.
But: We had our headlamps on and were ready to go. We started hiking following Abdi. Some other helpers were with us, including Godfrey, the assistant guide. The hike was very steep, every step was a pretty big effort. We were told it was about 5 hours to stella point and 1 and 1/2 hours from there to Uhuru point. The hike up was slow. Almost right away I started feeling too warm. I really felt way overdressed and my back was overheating where my backpack was. I felt the need to rest and catch my breath frequently. Abdi asked if I was okay. I said that I was, but that I felt too hot. Immediately Abdi told someone to take my daypack from me, which bruised my ego a little as I thought I’d be able to at least carry my own daypack to the top.   Abdi came up to me and unzipped my jacket and my fleece and told me to zip it up again when I was cold and told me to keep going. Immediately without my backpack I felt like a giant burden had been lifted from me, and it was much easier… but it was still hard. My headlamp batteries died, I hiked for a while using ambient light from Bill’s headlamp behind me. Every step was an enormous effort and it went very steeply up with absolutely no flat parts or easy sections.  I looked up ahead of me, there was a very huge line of dinky headlamps headed up the mountain, all other hopeful summiters ahead of us. I could not see the mountain itself as it was too dark, but the line of headlamps going up seemed to go on forever.  It seemed as though there were no end.  It was depressing. Abdi and the other helpers on the mountains were singing songs. I didn’t have the energy to sing, but I liked to hear them. I thought of Cake songs and The Darkness songs and sang them to myself in my own head, not even having the energy to mouth the words as I struggled to breathe at this altitude and steep ascent.  I looked at the moon, it was a very large yellow crescent hanging in a sky full of bright stars. It was very pretty. I told Dana, who was in front of me, “Look at the moon”, she did not respond. A few minutes later: “Dana, isn’t the moon pretty?” She did not respond. I started looking at her more closely, she looked very tired. I wanted to tell her to give her daypack to somebody. Within several minutes she did ask Abdi to carry it for her. I was glad, because I knew how much it helped me not to have mine on.
We stopped a few times for water breaks. During the first few stops my water was starting to freeze, but I could thaw out the mouthpiece of my bottle by sucking on it. I also got to replace my batteries in my headlamp, which was good. It was really starting to get very very cold. I had re-zipped my fleece and “warm jacket’ and pulled up my hood nice and tight. My feet were absolutely starting to freeze. I started to wonder if I could lose toes to frostbite within a 8 hour period in the cold on the mountain. I began to move my ankles more and attempt to wiggle my toes with every step. It helped only marginally. The trail then went from bad to worse. The trail had been very steep and rocky, but then became sandy. We were on a huge “skree slope” which I noted was just like hiking a sand dune. Every step up was very difficult and steep and with every step up, I slide about halfway back down to where I started. It went on and on. My feet felt like solid ice blocks. My hands were starting to freeze. I looked up at Dana and noticed that she had her hands in her pockets: totally genius, I did the same, it helped, however it made balancing more difficult. We stopped only for very very short breaks. I tried to wiggle my toes and move my ankles during the breaks. The porter carrying my daypack would get my water for me during the breaks. During one short break I was trying to defrost my mouthpiece to my water bottle my sucking and chewing on it like a dog, it wasn’t working. I was also trying to catch my breath. Before I could even get a drink Abdi said “okay, lets go”. I said “but I didn’t get any water yet, does anyone have any water that isn’t frozen?” Abdi grabbed my water from me and immediately scolded me for trying to use water that I stored outside of my pack, he said “I told you your water would freeze” I realized that I wasn’t thinking clearly and that I did have other water in my pack, but I didn’t get it, the porter did hand me my frozen water, but I didn’t think to ask him for other water. Abdi gave me some water and I drank it. It was so cold, it seemed to make me even colder. Porters and helpers helped me put my gloves on better. They helped try to warm me up by rubbing my hands and patting my back, they were very nice and encouraging. Me and Dana tried to be brave for each other and gave each other five.
We had to hike more. Abdi said if we didn’t keep moving that we would freeze. The steep and horrible skree just continued relentlessly. I was starting to get really really exhausted. I still had at least another hour of hiking it. My hands and feet were ice blocks. Each step was so difficult and so heartbreaking because I would slide down so much after exerting such a huge effort to make that step. I remember thinking: “this is so hard, each step is so hard” I was starting to lose my balance and not placing my feet as carefully which resulted in more backsliding with each step than previously. I said to Abdi “can we go slower and take more breaks?” He didn’t respond. “Abdi?!!! Abdi??!! Can we go slower and take more breaks?” He said “No!!, If you are allowed to make your own pace you will give up.  Just keep walking.” I really had the desire to beg him, I wanted to tell him that I promised I wouldn’t give up, but I just really wanted to go slower and take more breaks. I won’t give up, I promise, I promise. But instead, I just shut up and kept walking like he said. Holy shit, did the trail just keep going up. I made the mistake of looking up the mountain. The line of headlamps still went seemingly endlessly up the mountain, I could not see the end. I kept hiking up. Each step seemed monumental, it was so hard. I couldn’t believe how hard it was. The wind was whipping at me and I couldn’t feel my feet at all anymore, which was good because they didn’t bother me anymore, I stopped bothering trying to wiggle my toes. I started to slip more and more. I reached the point where I thought I might cry. Abdi then told me to hold onto Godfrey’s arm for support. Godfrey appeared on my right out of thin air and I linked my arm into his arm. I was grateful. Abdi helped Dana with support by having her hold her backpack (which he was wearing) from behind him for support. We continued to hike… up the skree….. forever….. I started to use Godfrey’s arm for support more and more until the point that I didn’t think that I could stand without him being there. Still we hiked up the skree. One step up, sliding 1/2 step down, over and over and over. Godfrey was so nice. We stopped for very very brief breaks, about 30 seconds at a time, Godfrey rubbed my hands and patted my back. Sometimes as we were walking he would rub or pat my hand that was holding his arm to help keep it warm. My other hand was in my pocket. I felt so helpless letting him help me like that. When I thought about how nice he was and how grateful I was for his help, I wanted to cry. Then I thought about how hard the trail was and I wanted to cry. Oh my god, it just kept going with no relief… at one point I looked up at Dana who was hanging onto Abdi heavily and I said “this trail is so horrible, every step is so hard” I don’t think she heard me, Godfrey did and he rubbed my hand.
I took huge gulps of air and occasionally fought the urge to cry. Godfrey told me that once we get to Stella Point that the trail will flatten out to Uhuru Peak and that it will be “very easy”. He said we only had about 20-30 minutes more of the steep trail to Stella Point. i told him I was happy to look forward to the easy trail.
Finally, oh FINALLY, we made it to Stella Point. The trail became flat and the wind picked up to a very very strong gust. Dana was there, she grabbed me by the arms and said “we are gonna do this, we are gonna fucking do this, it’s gonna fucking kill us, but we are doing this” I looked at her and didn’t have the energy to respond. I started to get tears in my eyes. I saw a very huge glacier right behind her. Godfrey was gone for the moment. It was still dark outside, but slightly lighter than pitch black. It was very very very cold. I started to have an upset stomach and thought that I had to have diarrhea.  I wasn’t sure, maybe I just had to pee. I walked behind a glacier to make my toilet.  Actually, kinda to the side of a glacier, it was so dark out that no one could see anything anyway. It was hard to take three bottom layers down with frozen hands, but I managed and indeed I had to have diarrhea.  I won’t even mention how difficult it is to deal with toilet paper with frozen hands.  Diarrhea on the side of a glacier?  Yes, now I get to check that off my bucket list.  Godfrey was waiting for me and he walked behind me for a while. Dana and Abdi were ahead of me. They waited for me.  I was previously told that Uhuru point was 1 and 1/2 hours from Stella Point. I discovered that although the trail was flatter and much much much much easier, it was still difficult for me to walk. Abdi offered his right arm for support, Dana was on his left arm. I started to feel extremely dizzy, I was trying to walk, but basically was hanging off of Abdi’s arm. I told Abdi “Abdi! I’m really really dizzy, I can’t walk straight” he held my arm tighter and said: “just keep walking, you will feel better in five minutes” and I did keep walking, and I did feel better in 5 minutes. The trail went in between glaciers, and then on top of glaciers. The trail seemed to narrow out and was too narrow for me, Abdi and Dana all at once. Godfrey again magically appeared and offered up his arm. I took it and walked with him, babbling on about how I liked the flat trail much much better than the trail up to stella point.
Much sooner than I expected, Godfrey told me: look, there is Uhuru Point. I looked ahead and saw in the distance a sign post and people gathered around it. I looked down at my feet on top of a glacier and saw the “trail” which was really a glacier, and it was fairly flat all the way to the point. Then it hit me: I was going to make it, I was going to make it to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in the entire continent of Africa, the tallest free standing mountain in the entire world. This is something that I had wanted to do for so many years, something that I had decided that my life would not be complete without doing it, something on my life’s list of goals to accomplish. I was doing it today, right now, and I was going to make it. I was going to achieve this goal. I was doing it, it was 7-7-2010, approaching 7am. I am 33 years old, I wanted to do it before I turned 40. I am on the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro. I was so overwhelmed. I started crying, A lot. Tears flowed freely from my eyes until I couldn’t even see where I was walking. I still had quite a bit of walking to do. I had to fight the urge to sob openly. I didn’t want Godfrey to see, but I’m sure he did. I made it to the top. Dana was there about 30 seconds before me, she was all but hopping up and down. I was crying and couldn’t speak, and I couldn’t stop crying. I told Godfrey through sobs and tears “thank you so much for helping me, this is something I really wanted to do in my life” I wanted to say more, but I was too choked up. Bill and Danny grabbed me and hugged me. Oh yeah… I forgot they were with us. They made it up there too!! I was happy. We all did it!!! Abdi offered to take photos of us by the sign. I took out my camera from inside my jacket. It didn’t work, it said the batteries were dead. Abdi said that would happen in extreme cold. I had spares in my inside pocket. I changed them, they also didn’t work. He told me to take them out and he would warm them up and try again. He did and they worked for one photo of me at the top, then stopped working. Luckily, Dana had better luck and got some photos. I had my left glove off and was trying to mess with my camera and batteries and suddenly, I shit you not, my hand fricken froze in place and would not move, it was like a block of ice. The nice porter who had my day pack grabbed my camera from me and put it in my inside jacket pocket for me and put my glove on my hand for me, it wouldn’t go on completely. I had to use my right hand to shove my left hand in my pocket. Godfrey magically appeared again and walked with me to descend the mountain. The sun was rising, it was beautiful, the timing of the hike was actually quite perfect. I could not feel my left hand for at least 15 minutes, and when I began to feel it again, it was so horribly painful. The pain lasted about 20 minutes or so before it began to feel somewhat more normal. Godfrey and I made it to Stella point. It was there in the daylight that I got to look down and see the horror of what I had climbed up previously. It was a huge slope of sand and rock that went on and on and on. Godfrey offered up his hand and he and I walked, slid, ran down the skree of the mountain. Even at a near running pace down, it took over 2 hours to get down the sandy slope. It was baffling to think that I had just climbed up it. It was probably a good thing we did it in the dark. If I had seen that on the way up, I may have wanted to give up. Godfrey and I were quite fast in our decent. I made it down at least 10-15 minutes before the rest of my group. At the camp Kitenja was waiting for me with Gatorade. He exclaimed “Melissa!!!” and gave me a big hug.  After we were all back, we got to sleep for a couple of hours and then we hiked down to a lower camp for the night.
We came off the mountain today, the hike down was brutal, was very steep and my toes are suffering. A word of advise: trim your toenails before descending a giant mountain. I think my toenails may fall off.
On the way down we saw some poor young guy getting strapped into a large stretcher attached to a old crappy looking motorcycle wheel on the front, appearing sort of like a makeshift wheelbarrow.  We passed him and I felt sorry for him.   A short time later we heard screaming from behind and that very stretcher was coming down on the old motorcycle wheel with multiple porters screaming while hauling the guy. They guy was bouncing so much and seemed very very very much in pain. Abdi said they guy hurt his leg on the peak yesterday and was taken partway down yesterday and is headed to the hospital today. Then I remembered that I did see the red cross coming up the mountain on my way down it yesterday, it must have been for that guy. I felt sorry for him. The trail down the mountain today through the rainforest was very steep and slippery, and I very much didn’t want to end up in a stretcher being rolled down the mountain. (another group of people later reported that they saw that stretcher miss a corner and hit a tree on the way down). I had more help today from Godfrey (support in steep and slippery areas with a helping hand) and some teasing from Bill and Danny that I must have a crush on Godfrey.  Seriously, he was so helpful, and I was so grateful for his help.
I got a gold certificate today, says I made it to the top!!!

So, I did it! I was hard, it was the most difficult and extreme hiking I have ever done. I heard another hiker say: “I have a great sense of accomplishment but didn’t enjoy it”. I would agree with that for the actual summit day, but I really did enjoy the hike overall. The staff was great, the food was good, camping was fun, Dana was great company, Danny and Bill were nice guys to have in the group. It was a great experience.

I fly to Amsterdam tomorrow, and home the next day.
I’m going to be sad to leave Africa. I have loved this trip so much! Africa will hold a very special place in my heart.



On the way up, Kibo in the background


Our four successful summiters, July 7, 2010



My victory picture!



Me and Godfrey and Dana finally made it back off the mountain. 



Me and Godfrey, my Kilimanjaro hero!

I must also make note of Abdi, who was a great trip leader, and his tough love, help and desire for us all to make it was fantastic, without Abdi and Godfrey and all of the other support staff on this trip, I wouldn’t have made it to the top!