To help me in my quest to become an Axetronaut (a term coined by my friend Christine), you could not bother reading this post and just vote for me at http://bit.ly/SpaceCase, but I’ve got a story to tell.
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How cool would it be to go to outer space???
A while back, I’d put a quote up for discussion on my Facebook from Penelope Trunk, author of The New American Dream:
It used to be we had a midlife crisis. Then we had a quarterlife crisis. Now we have a constant crisis. Adults feel overwhelmed by the idea of trying to construct a life that works. And the core of this problem is that the goal of happiness is feeling vacuous. It’s just hard to say that. It’s hard to say you are not trying to get what you were raised to get. It’s hard to say you are not playing the game you were taught in school – for twenty years – to play.
In her book, Penelope surmises that we’re not actually looking for happiness in our lives — we’re just looking to keep things interesting. We get so wrapped up in our daily routines and trying to live at a certain standard that we forget to change it up now and then. To try new experiences, go new places, meet new people — we somehow convince ourselves that we’ll be happy if only we can keep things constant and meet a specific goal.
You’re kidding me, right?
No, the universe out there is so much larger and more complex than we can even fathom — yet me limit ourselves to the files on our desks. Or to our social media rankings. Bank account balances.
All things that won’t matter a lick at the end of our lives.
What we will have until the end are the experiences that make us unique. The experiences that make up the very foundation of who we are.
Our jobs do not define us.
Our stuff does not define us.
But we cannot choose whether our experiences define us — we are the sum of our experiences!
Axeing You to Make Me an Axetronaut!
With all that in mind, I want to find my way to outer space!
While I’m not a fan of popularity contests (I’ll take feats of skill or luck over “Who ha the most Internet friends” any day), some prizes are too cool to pass up so easily!
But why send me to space? Why should I be one of the ones to represent Canada in one of the first commercial flights among the stars? Well…
1. I PROMISE TO MAKE THE MOST OF THE EXPERIENCE
Anyone who’s seen me in the midst of a new experience knows I’m like a kid at a candy store. My eyes light up, my energy levels spike, and I soak it all in. I’m not there to say I was there — I’m there to get everything I can from the experience I’m in! This would be no exception!
2. YOU CAN FREELY BE AMUSED BY MY COMPLETE LACK OF SHAME
No holds barred, y’all. If I need to upchuck my lunch after a ride in a centrifuge, you’ll be there. If I have a really embarrassing crotch-to-face collision while in zero gravity, you’ll be there. When I write, I’m here to help you experience what I experience, both good and bad. And if you trust me to go to space? It’ll be ridiculous.
3. I REP CANADA, THROUGH AND THROUGH
I’m proud to stand by the re and white colours of our flag. I’d love to show what Canadians are really made of and that even though we can be nice and polite to a fault, we’re also tough contenders when it comes down to it! Space would be the perfect arena to prove this!
How it All Works
So we have 8 months to show that we can rally enough support to send us to Space Camp. You’ll see below that you can only vote once, so the real mission here will be to convince you guys to share my http://bit.ly/SpaceCase link with as many people as possible in that time! I’m somewhere around 200th now, but in that time, trust me — we can do some serious damage!!!
For a more detailed look at how the entire contest works:
Stage 1 — VOTING
Voting runs from January 9 – August 31, 2013
You can only vote once over the 8 months, meaning you want exposure to as many people as possible and not just harping on your friends to vote for you daily! (i.e. I’m going to badger you lot to share the heck out of the link instead!)
The Top 2 Canadians who advance to Stage 2 will be announced on or before October 31, 2013
Stage 2 — SPACE CAMP
Stage 2 is held at the Axe Apollo Global Space Camp in Orlando, FL in December 2013
Winners can meet winners from promotions in other countries, and take part in authentic astronaut training missions (including: a flight in an L39 Albatross Mk11 jet, a session in a G-force centrifuge simulator and a flight on a zero gravity-inducing aircraft)
Stage 3 — ASTRONAUT SELECTION
The winning Canadian Axetronaut will be selected by January 31, 2014 based on 3 criteria:
MENTAL APTITUDE – BASED ON PERFORMANCE IN WRITTEN TEST
PHYSICAL APTITUDE – BASED ON PERFORMANCE IN 3 MAIN EVENTS AND ASSAULT COURSE
AXE SPACE CREW TEAM FIT – DEDICATION, ENTHUSIASM & TEAM SPIRIT
The prize: A flight on the X-COR Lynx sub‐orbital space vehicle, now under development by X-COR Technologies
Selected by January 31, 2014
Launch site: Currently anticipated to be in the United States, or the island of Curaçao.
The X‐COR Lynx sub-orbital space vehicle: Currently anticipated to be ready to carry private passengers on commercial space flights from late 2014 onwards; Space Flight is planned to take place between January 1, 2014 and January 1, 2017, if it happens at all. (If the flight cannot take place by January 1, 2017, the Space Flight prize will be cancelled and Promoter will award the winner a cash prize of about $85,000.
The greatest trick that Casey Palmer ever pulled was convincing the world that he didn’t exist. Or… he just worked a week with 40 hours of overtime and had no time to blog. You decide which story is real.
Okay, as a premise to this post, I’ve been informed by reliable sources that I no longer have the right to complain about how much pain I was in on the Kili climb unless I want to re-enact it by using just my arms. So this post will be the last you hear of it.
“Immediately on the outskirts of the camp we across [sic] a small stream before being faced with the sheer wall of Barranco — infamously known as ‘Breakfast’! It takes just over an hour of scrambling up the steep climb but the views are breathtaking and it is a thrilling experience. You will be able to see far below where our camp was and the porters as they pack it up. We then fall into a rhythm of ascending and descending a series of ridges as we cross our last water point and arrive into the green valley of Karanga.”
End: KARANGA VALLEY CAMP
How’re these dudes carrying twice as much as me, but also moving twice as fast???
This trip would’ve been a lot easier had I been bitten by a radioactive spider beforehand. Day 4’s prominent feature was a lovely challenge they call Barranco Wall (otherwise known as “Breakfast” for the cruel reason that it’s the first thing of the day you need to conquer). About 150m in height, it’s essentially a vertical climb without ropes. And what would a ropeless vertical climb be without another leap of faith? Yeah, I made the mistake (again!) of looking down, but I considered my options and soldiered on.
However, it was atop Barranco Wall where I realized the toll that a decade of bad behaviour had taken on my body — when we came across a trio of young Brits (aged 19-21) who made this entire climb look easy. (I would not-so-secretly hate them for the rest of the trip.)
After that, Day 4 wasn’t so bad.
Day 4 was a day of tests though, and much like you’d begun, the end of that day’s trail presents you with a wall, and a choice. You get to choose from one of two paths:
Go left and you choose a longer, but less steep path upward as you ascend to camp. Sakshi and I would choose this route, taking it ever-slowly to the top
Go right and you’ve chosen the shorter, steeper (we were told that it was the steepest incline on the mountain!) path. Trevor took this, and I swear that he must’ve found a secret elevator because it took him all of 10 minutes. Next time, I’m training with that guy.
We’d eventually get up this last obstacle and make it to camp (after a bit of additional rest), where games, food and some night-time photography would all go down.
“The route today is short and steep, as we enter a barren landscape of boulders and shattered rocks. We come to a point along the route which is a fork up to Barafu and down to Mweka. At this stage we choose up and approx half and [sic] hour we reach camp: sheer cliffs and large rocks. Today is an early dinner and early bed — although you will find it difficult to actually sleep, rest your body in preparation for the midnight assault on the summit. This is probably the hardest physical your body will do in its life.”
End: BARAFU CAMP
Day 5 mostly seemed like a strange adventure, wandering over a landscape of paper-thin shattered rocks, piled as far as the eyes could see.
Over the course of these days, we got the feeling that our head guide, Julius, was none too fond of us. Maybe it was the way that he often distanced himself from us, leaving us to navigate for ourselves on unfamiliar terrain. Maybe it was the way he’d express frustration if we felt too queasy. Or walked too slowly. Or did anything to irritate him. We’re not sure if it was a bad week for him or something — but he definitely wasn’t what we were expecting.
Holson was far better at making sure we stayed okay, and to be honest, we were torn at the end of the trip between being fair and giving Holson a better tip, or just making sure that the trek from the last camp (where we handed the tips out) back down to town wouldn’t be horribly awkward for all of us. We saw all the other guides travel closely to their charges at paces suited to them — so what made us so different? Had he done 17 years of guiding and suddenly decide that he was tired of it?
We’ll probably never know.
At this higher altitude, the final climb up to Barafu Camp probably felt harder than it actually was, but I definitely felt the need for some rest afterward! And rest can only be found in Barafu Camp if you have no fear of rodents.
After numerous high seasons where tourists have recklessly strewn garbage all over the camp, it is overrun by oversized field mice, all trying to find something to nibble on. To save my companions much grief, frustration and terror, our time at Barafu was spent quarantined in one tent or another, playing ridiculous amounts of Race for the Galaxy until it was time to eat.
Somewhere around 6:30 we were told to get some rest since the next day started early as was promised to be grueling. I didn’t think I’d be able to nod off with all the activity going on around me, but eventually I’d nod off….
11:15 pm. They wake us up and prepare us for what lies ahead. The hot tea and chapatis doesn’t do a ton to steel our nerves, and I know Sakshi hasn’t been feeling the greatest over the last couple of days. Regardless, we’ve come this far. I strap my headlamp on and prepare myself for the hours ahead.
“This is summit day — what we have all been working towards. We wake around midnight for a quick snack and then we are on our way. We start out on rocky ground but it soon turns to snow as we near the Crater rim. Slowly, slowly we go and this is the time that you start to feel fatigue for the first time, especially as we enter the volcanic scree area that is like sand and you tend to slide backwards a little with every step. We reach the rim at Stella Point around sunrise and continue to the Summit at Uhuru Peak, not long after. Only a short time is spent here and we return down our steep track for brunch and resting back at Barafu Camp. After this, we have a comfortable but dusty walk down to Mweka.”
End: MWEKA CAMP
Summit Day. The final uphill test to determine whether you’re Barafu mouse or mountain man! This is the moment where having a headlamp is key. The specs for the climb are as follows:
Climb duration: Midnight-sunrise to get to Stella Point; an extra hour to get to Uhuru Peak
Climb ascent: 4330m – 5895m
Climb incline: 30° – 50°
Climb terrain: Volcanic scree — or rather, a ton of gravel that’s hard to get your footing on, sliding back with each step
Nothing on the climb so far compares to this challenge. This morning would prove to me — I wasn’t completely ready for this. The first half of the climb was okay — we’d opted to get a spare assistant guide, Jon, in order to help us up the mountain. Sakshi and I both opted to have one of the guides carry our packs as we scrambled up the mountain. But forward we went.
I’ve mentioned it before — climbing Kilimanjaro is a huge mental game; but it’s bad enough when it’s light out. When you’re in the dark and can only make faint outlines of the ridges ahead of you, you can never really tell how far you’ve climbed, and you refuse you check your watch, because you know it’ll only tell you how little you’ve done so far.
Then at 4 am, it happened — my legs gave way! I’d later discover that one of the side effects of Diamox can be severe muscle cramping, but also, I’d never put as much strain as I had those last five days ever before in my life.
Back on Day 1, I introduced you to Trevor Zen. I laid out a few choice Palmer Parables at this point, including:
“I’m going to die on this mountain. It’s all a plot where my wife’s trying to kill me for the paltry insurance money. This is the perfect cover-up!”
“The mind is willing, but the flesh is weak. So very, very weak.”
The next few hours only got from bad to worse. My water was frozen in my hydration pack from the cold winds whipping around. My six layers on top and four layers on my legs weren’t helping for mobility. My face was getting cold since I couldn’t breathe well through my balaclava, and it was -10° C outside, plus wind chill. Holson and Jon would alternate in giving me their shoulders for supports and practically dragging me uphill as I tried to conquer the last of Kili. (I’d sent Trevor and Sakshi ahead to leave me with my misery.) Every step I took felt like someone was shoving hot knives through my thighs, and I’m not a crier, but this experience got me close. I was having the hardest time ever trying to finish this.
And then I turned around and saw this:
Stretched across the entire length of the curved horizon before us was the most awe-inspiring sunrise I’d ever seen. It was amazing. I regret that I was in far too much pain to even think about getting a shot, but I don’t think it’s something that’ll leave my memory any time soon.
But Stella Point was close. So very close. I could do this.
I kept hobbling up. Bit by bit. Julius would later come to check on me and urge me forward. One way or another, I’d make it up there. Somehow I made it to the final ridge and was 20 steps away from Stella Point.
That’s when I did what was probably the stupidest thing one could do at 5739 m — I sprinted up. I needed to stop the pain. So I sprinted to the top of the mountain and called it a wrap, falling flat on my back in sheer exhaustion as my guides unzipped my layers so I could breathe and not die of oxygen deprivation.
But I made it.
Being atop a mountain isn’t a sensation you can easily put into words — seeing the horizon curve in front of you over a layer of nothing but clouds; knowing everything that you had to do to get to that point — it’s unreal. You don’t even fully realise where you are and what you’ve accomplished — it’s like being in waking shock. It was nuts.
Now, in the most technical of technicalities, I didn’t make it to the very top of Kili — in our group, that award goes to Sakshi and Trevor, who walked the extra hour away and 200m further up the mountain to reach Uhuru Peak, known as the “Top of Africa”. Probably would’ve been cool to make it for bragging rights — but who knows? I could eventually return to the mountain so that Sarah can one day see what we saw! Here’s an idea of how close I made it, though:
You only stay up there for about 15 minutes, though, before you make the dawning realisation that you need to make the 2 hour trek back down to camp for brunch. My legs were jelly. My nose was sunburnt. But I raced behind Holson (where possible), making the gruelling trek back to Barafu. I didn’t get much fanfare when I got back to camp — some handshakes and congratulatory remarks — but when Trevor and Sakshi showed up some hours later, they were greeted by…
And with that, we ate and started the slow march down to Mweka Camp to spend one final night on this crazy mountain trip of ours.
“On a clear morning, you can wake up to the peak of Kibo in the background of the camp — a great photographic opportunity. It is a fun morning of singing and enjoying the last moments with your ‘Kili’ team before we all head down through the steep forest to the National Park gate. We complete signing out formalities before saying good-bye and boarding our transfer vehicle to Arusha. After a short rest and wash — we meet for a trek debriefing.”
End: AHADI LODGE
I won’t even spend a serious amount of time covering the descent, save a couple of things:
you might think that going down is easier than going up, but think about that for a sec. You’re covering the 30 hours of climbing you just did going up the mountain in a mere 10 hours going down. You will destroy the balls of your feet from the constant impact. You will curse the fact that your body’s so beaten up. But step by step, you’ll find a way to return to civilisation — because the dream of sleeping in a real bed and a well-deserved shower are powerful enough to keep you going!
just because you got to the top of the mountain doesn’t mean that Kili’s done with you; on the way down, we got hit by a torrential storm — but since it was still high up, it was torrential hail. This was seriously impressive — hail almost a centimetre wide, coming down so hard that all the terrain around us went from brown to white in a matter of minutes. It’s a strange feeling, being pelted by solid matter from the sky so relentlessly! (We were eventually rewarded with a big ol’ rainbow, though!)
On the last morning, though, after we gave out tips, after we said our farewells, the last thing that we’d do… is celebrate!!!
So, in my eyes, that’s pretty much what climbing Kilimanjaro is like! Eventually getting back to Ahadi Lodge was amazing, and no one is ever lying when they say that the shower you take after Kili is the best one that you’ll likely ever take in your life.
So for anyone out there looking to tackle Kili, I hope I’ve been able to give you an idea of what the experience was like — and why I don’t plan to conquer another mountain again any time soon.
Though Sarah’s uncle has invited us to go with him to Everest base camp…
Tell your wife, tell your kids, tell your husbands:
Machame – Shira Two Hike: 5 km 3022m – 3830m 5-6 hours
“The words steep, rocky and dusty are out adjectives for the day as we leave the grassland behind and enter a barer landscape. We make our way slowly upward with a backdrop of Giant Senecias — today is a great introduction to how we will need to acclimatise as we ascend by having the trail lead us up and down and over ridges.”
END: SHIRA TWO CAMP
Sarah was sick.
We didn’t know if it was something she’d eaten, altitude sickness, anxiety (or it could’ve been pregnancy for all we knew) — but her dinner had decided that it wanted a little fresh air the night before, and so she was having a rough go at Kili.
We decided to take it slow on Day 2 and see how she fared.
But first things first — I had to conquer a challenge of my own that I’d avoided the day before:
Using the outhouse.
If you get squeamish quickly, I advise you to skip to the next section (marked by the next horizontal line… after the next horizontal line.)
I knew that outhouses weren’t for me as soon as I walked in one. Maybe it was the door that didn’t entirely lock. Perhaps it was the smell of all those who’d come before and that which they’d left behind. The mosquitoes were a massive pain in the — wait for it— ass.
But when you’ve gotta go, you’ve gotta go. You can’t expect to eat all the stuff they shove down your gullet and expect to block out the call of nature forever.
It’s all about the technique, though. You need to simultaneously:
squat in such a way that you’re folding your body into a “Z” while
keeping your legs apart enough to maintain your balance (because you don’t want to fall in there), all while
aiming to make sure you hit the mark of a tiny little hole on the floor of the outhouse
Not the most comfortable experience I ever had. But you do what you’ve gotta do and move on with life. There’re a couple of lessons to learn here:
Lesson #3: Eat as much as you can! You’re going to need to eat as much as possible if you plan to make it to the top!
Some problems you’ll face with this are:
your appetite waning as you make it farther up the mountain
your appetite waning as you get homesick and realise that you only have strange food to eat that you’d typically never touch
But your stomach only has so much capacity, and if you’re hitting your limit — trust me; it’ll make the entire outhouse thing so much easier.
Lesson #4: POOP. All kidding aside, this is a serious lesson. The less weight you’re carrying — both inside and out — will make the entire climb a lot easier for you. Don’t let your cultural differences bring you down!
So with that out of the way, it was time to start Day 2!
Even though we couldn’t believe it, Day 2 started with an even steeper climb than everything we’d experienced on Day 1, scaling boulders as we quickly ascended through temperate zone #3: heather and moorland (2800m-4000m)!
Now while Day 2 might not have been as physically exhausting as Day 1 (part of this being due to walking at a slower pace, the other part due to having learned my lesson from Day 1 and carrying a lot less), that didn’t make it any safer.
Even though we’d cleared the forest, the rain was still an issue — the thing about Kili is that you could very clearly see the weather coming at you well before it changed! Being near the rainy season, you could get unobstructed views of your surroundings in the early morning (6:30 – 9:30 AM), in the evening (6 – 7 PM), and everything in between (aka sleepy time).
The problem was the sunshine — as the sun beamed down, it would heat the moisture trapped in the clouds below. What this means — and I wish I’d taken video of this (but when you’re climbing a mountain, you tend to have other priorities) — is that you can actually see the mist creeping up the mountain slowly heading toward you (like a horror movie), until your surroundings eventually look like this:
And when the mist comes, rain was never too far behind. Mountain climbing with low visibility and slippery surfaces. Nothing to worry about here, right?
No, climbing wet rocks is a lot harder than climbing a dry route — as I would discover as I misplaced my footing on a slippery rock ledge once, clinging to the rock I was already on for dear life — the only alternative being the 100 m drop below! (I CAN’T MAKE THIS UP!)
After going pole pole with frequent rest breaks, we eventually reach Shira Two Camp, and while the clouds still decided to stick around for a while, we still got slivers of sunset:
Some napping and dining later, and we’d call it a night, preparing for whatever Day 3 had in store for us.
Shira Two – Barranco Hike: 10.4 km 3830m – 3900m 8-9 hours
“We start out this morning with a gentle hike before encountering rocks and boulders that we need to manoeuvre around and by lunch we reach Lava Tower (4530m). We enjoy our meal before having the option to ascend Lava Tower to have a fantastic view down to our team and across to our camp for the night.”
END: BARRANCO CAMP
And then suddenly, I was wifeless.
Not in the strictest sense of the term, mind you — we’re still married today and she’s still alive — but Sarah’s sickness won the battle after another night of her dinner not staying where it should, and as of morning three we would bid her adieu with her making her way with the porter Samuel to the ranger’s station so she could get a ride down the mountain and back to Ahadi Lodge to recover.
On one hand, we were all concerned and hoped that she would have a speedy recovery so she’d be up and running again. On the other hand, somewhere on the dark side of Casey’s mind, a thought was brewing:
Wait. So she convinced me to come on this insane climb — and now she’s not even going to finish??? How is this fair?!
But of course, this was unfair. Despite the fact that being sick made the climb utterly miserable for Sarah (though I didn’t have the faintest idea what would be on the menu for me in a few days!), she did put an effort out — so I need to commend her for that 🙂
So yes: then there were three.
I don’t know whether it was due to having gone slowly the night before and having stored up a huge reserve of energy, or because I wanted to get off of the uphill portions of this mountain as quickly as possible because they always proved to be harder on my legs, but this was the day where I usurped Trevor’s role of The Beast and zoomed ahead on the brutal climb at the beginning of the day (we’re talking 3 – 3 1/2 hours of rocky climbing on a 30° incline, here!), putting a good 10-15 minutes between myself and Trevor and Sakshi. It was less having a wealth of untapped energy, and more just utter stubbornness. When Sakshi later asked me what my secret was, I told her my mantra went a little like this:
“You stupid mountain, I’m going to climb you! YOU CAN’T STOP ME.”
And that’s what kept me going. Like I said — a large part of climbing a mountain is the mental game to keep you going while you’re trying to get to the top, so as long as you focus on where you’re headed:
(while of course taking some time to appreciate where you’ve been:)
it makes it easier to conquer the mountain, bit by bit. After accidentally heading off of the trail a couple of times, having other porters point me back into the right direction until I got fed up and decided to wait at The Junction (a point where you either choose to go straight to Barranco Camp or take the more scenic route toward Lava Tower and a view of Arrow Glacier, used to acclimatize climbers for the higher altitudes of the mountain), where I’d eventually be reunited with my friends:
Now, you might be wondering which path to take. Sakshi took the route back to Barranco Camp — as you can see, she was pretty tuckered out. Totally fair — it was a tough climb! Trevor and I decided to brave the scenic route, but let me remind you: by this time, you’ve done 3 – 3 1/2 hours of gruelling uphill climbing, fording narrow rock passes and trying not to trip over the loose rocks.
Lesson here? If you choose the Lava Tower path, I promise you — the route is designed to turn you into minced meat. Seriously.
Ascending was bad enough — up and down and up and down through gorges, over rivers and through rocky pathways — but the descent. The descent was very likely the worst punishment I’d received on the climb so far!
You take it quickly, climbing down a path that no human being is meant to take so fast — and before you’re prepared for it — BOOM!!! — altitude headache! This rendered me near-useless and disoriented until we got to camp, where Advil would become an excellent friend to Trevor and myself.
Climb time: 8:15 am – 2:50 pm, 6 hrs 35 mins
Suggested climb time: 8-9 hours (while I know that this wasn’t a race, there’s a certain degree of pride in overachieving!)
Height climbed: 2160 m
Distance walked: 23.6 km
Day Three tried valiantly to kill us, but the bright side is that Day Three wasn’t nearly as hard as Days Four and Five promised to me!
Which I was trying not to remind myself!
With that, we had some time to rest and play some games what quickly became our favourite game on the trip — Race for the Galaxy — in Château de Casey:
But really, it was only a distraction from the promises the next day had in store for us, including having to scale the beast known as Barranco Wall… but that’s a story for next time.
Tell your wife, tell your kids, tell your husbands:
We settled our bill at Imani, which included a free ride to the Zanzibar airport (which was amazing after all the taxi-related debacles). After getting through customs (where the customs officer gave me quite the strange look when she saw my tripod — I think she thought it was something else), we’d take a 20-minute flight, where we’d reunite with Trevor and Sakshi!!!
It’s funny how you can be so happy to see someone one day and so bewildered with them another — but I’m getting ahead of myself.
Another couple of hours in our 12-seater bush plane and we were picked up by our driver (and new best friend), Muba from Maasai Wanderings, who would take us to Ahadi Lodge in Arusha to rest and prepare for what could very well have been the most challenging week of our lives.
My mission, should I choose to accept it (and my friends didn’t give me much choice in the matter, here), was the following:
Arusha-Machame Hike: 8.2 km 1840m-3022m 5-6 hours
“We depart after breakfast for the transfer to the National Park Gate at Machame where we fulfil [sic] the registration formalities before entering the Park. We make our way through the heavily rooted forest area parallel to a flowing stream. We eat lunch along the way and by mid-afternoon we are able to recognise our first camp.”
End: MACHAME CAMP
Sounds simple enough, but from the first day of climbing, we realised that reaching the summit of Kilimanjaro would be far more of a challenge that we’d thought. Between Sarah and I, anyway, she’d idealised what kind of adventure it’d be, realised how much of a life-changing experience it’d be, but not factoring in how hard it would be to do it. Me on the other hand — I chose not to think about it very much beforehand — bad move since the Kili climb is as much mental as it is physical, if not more so.
But I digress — let me tell you about the madness that was 7 Days of Kili!!!
So like I said, the first day would already set the tone for a week that none of us would ever forget.
After the belated arrival of our guide on the first day (both ironic and an omen, since he gave us flack for being “late” the night before — when in fact, our flight time had been given to him incorrectly), we packed our gear into Muba’s Toyota Land Cruiser and started the 2-hour drive to the mountain!
But not before stopping at the Shop-Rite supermarket! Did you know that they don’t sell dental floss in Tanzania?! Seriously, it’s the little things you miss the most. But moving on…
Some of the sights we’d see on the way there included:
The Clock Tower — in the Central Business district of Arusha, they call this “the centre of Africa” as it’s allegedly halfway between Cape Town, South Africa and Egypt
The Arushan International Conference Centre — where they were holding tribunals for criminal involved in 1994’s Rwandan Genocide
Tanzanite Mines — where we learned about Tanzanite, the stone said to be a thousand times rarer than diamonds (back in 1967, you could find Tanzanite 6 or 7 feet into the ground, but now they’re searching 400-600m deep and coming up with squat) and accordingly ridiculously expensive
The sightseeing tour would be brief, though — through the clouds and on the horizon loomed the beast that we (read: I) were sure was out to destroy us — Mt. Kilimanjaro!
Theoretically, we should have been more than prepared to deal with this:
for our group of 4, we were given a team of 17 to get us up, including guides, a chef, waiters, a tent-master, and an army of porters to carry everything (our bags, our tents, the food, everyone else’s crap, and so on)
our guide, Julius, was made out to be a legendary figure:
one tale had him carrying a woman (who’d given up) on his back up the last leg of the climb to make sure that she saw the summit
in 17 years, he’d climbed the mountain over 500 times
we’d brought all the right gear, got in shape and were young and positive enough to get this done!
This video should help to give you an idea of our initial attitude toward the mountain:
Kili had plans for us, though — plans indeed.
We would enter Machame Gate at 1800m, and while we waited for Julius to get our registration complete, men descended upon us to rent us gear (of which Trevor and Sakshi wisely partook for that which they lacked); we were provided with nicely gift-wrapped lunch boxes for the day (more on that later); we would watch as Muba drove off into the distance, marking that as the point of no return; and 45 minutes later, we were on our way!
Here’s what we looked like right then:
And on we would go. The first temperate zone of Kili is farmland (800m-1800m). Not much of a climb, so they skip you forward right to the second zone: rainforest (1800m-2800m)! With majestic trees and rugged paths, it made for quite the hike!
But as long as we took it pole pole (remember, Swahili for “slowly, slowly”), we could do it!
Rainforests also bring something else — TORRENTIAL TROPICAL RAIN! We should’ve known we were in for trouble when our guides started suiting up in rain jackets, waterproof pants and gaiters for their boots and we only had our raincoats with us, but it was a lesson that wouldn’t soon be forgotten after TWO HOURS OF RAIN and pants that were SOAKED THROUGH. (I, for one, also learned that Canadian passports AREN’T WATERPROOF.)
So LESSON #1: Carry ALL of your rain gear with you! Not just your rain coat — your bottom half will thank you.
After this, we were obviously miserable, and still had far to go. Trevor — who I was none too impressed with at this point, as I unfairly blamed the entire idea of the trip on his adventurous self — decided to look at the situation optimistically with a dose of “Trevor Zen”:
Trevor: I look at it with Trevor Zen.
Casey: Whaddya mean?
T: Well, each step we take is one that we’ll never need to take again!
C: …Trevor Zen sucks.
But he was right — if we kept moving forward, we’d eventually get thee. This is something we’d need to constantly remind ourselves over and over with each passing day!
Plus, part of my misery was my own damn fault — I hadn’t thought to unpack the unnecessary junk out of my day pack before climbing, so I walked 6 hours like I was carrying my bag to work in Toronto, including:
the Joby Gorillapod Ballhead X tripod I’d brought
our entire supply of snacks
two camera lenses
on top of the stuff I was going to need:
my digital SLR camera (yes, with a third lens)
3 litres of water
So, LESSON #2: Only carry what you need! This applies from the morning before you drive out to the afternoon when you get back — make sure your bag is light and filled with things you’ll actually use while constantly on the move. (And trust me, you won’t need snacks!)
Climb time: 12:35 pm – 6:15 pm (5h 40m)
We’d eventually make it to Machame camp, where we would strip the wet stuff off, rest our weary bodies, and dine on a voluminous dinner! (Note: between the amounts of food for every meal plus the lunch boxes they have you carry per day, there is no way humanly possible to finish all of the food they give you, ergo snacks are useless. Don’t pack too many!) We felt terrible that first night as we didn’t want to be wasteful, but our stomachs weren’t big enough to handle it all! This feeling, too, would eventually wane….
With one day down and six to go, we’d already learned a few lessons, and surely we could make the next day better than the first — right?
Next time in the Tanzania Chronicles — it’s called “uphill” for a reason!
Tell your wife, tell your kids, tell your husbands:
So we woke up in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania’s largest city — a fate it shares with Toronto in that it’s the largest, but not its country’s capital city. Dar es Salaam had cultural undertones that gave the city a bit of an edge to it after dark — like the fact that you wouldn’t see any women in public at night — set against a backdrop of heavy rain that just made the city feel even more ominous.
But we wouldn’t be there long — after washing up and a taxi ride, we’d find ourselves on the shoreline, approaching the ferry docks to get to Zanzibar. But when we arrived at the docks, the eagerness of the random men who: wished to take our bags and escort us to the door of the ferry station; or those looking to sell us “discount ferry tickets” (lie) for faster travel times (lie) and cheaper first class seats (lie) was only a sampling of how desperate Tanzania is as a nation. Obviously, we quickly grabbed our bags and carried them to the ticket office ourselves, keeping a firm eye on them all the way there.
Getting across the waters to Zanzibar will set you back $35 US a head if you sail Economy class — but a quick eyeballing of the prices showed me that First Class tickets were $40 — the best $5 investment I’d ever made in my life!
Remember that Tanzania’s the third-poorest country in Africa. Everywhere you turn is someone trying to make a quick so so that they’re even a little better off than they were the day before — the ferry was no exception.
You get your bags stowed away by suspicious-looking workers, they don’t give it back to you until you pay some more (fortunately someone waved us along and we kept our bags in sight the whole trip) — you need to constantly be on top of things.
But First Class was amazing — while Economy saw 90% of the passengers crammed into a dark interior room at the base of the boat with stale air, First Class had both an air-conditioned interior room on the second deck and an open-air viewing area on the top. The two-hour travel to Zanzibar was very forgiving with a good dose of fresh air.
After our jaunt on the ferry, we made our way through even more immigration (despite the fact that we didn’t change countries), and had to once again figure out which taxi drivers were on the level, and which ones wouldn’t hesitate to drive us to a shady part of town (which were in no short supply) and relieve us of our worldly possessions.
We eventually haggled one guy down to a semi-fair price and found ourselves (after one worrisome patch on some back roads) at our destination — Imani Beach Villa.
One of the first things you do when returning “home” from a long travel is check out where you’ll be sleeping, and as for beds, Imani wouldn’t disappoint!
With a ridiculously large bed (which was, in fact, two double beds put together), Sarah would later say that she would sometimes have to roll over five times at night to find me (I’m an edge-sleeper)!
That’s quite the bed! But the bed has nothing to do with the adventure, so let’s move on!
While in Imani, we’d meet some interesting people, such as:
A couple of dudes who had just come from their Kilimanjaro climb, explaining how difficult it had been. This started to get Sarah a little anxious, and started making me wonder why I’d agreed to this!
‘Asta Bowen: ‘Asta Bowen is an author and teacher from the US who was popularized for writing a book on huckleberries. We caught her in the middle of a year of travelling and shared some good stories!
Zanzibar is quite the interesting place. To the north, you have beautiful beaches with white sand and sparkling blue waters. To the east? Coral reefs that you can explore just off the coast of the island. But as for the rest of the island….
This trip was one of the few times during the trip where Conflict-Ready Casey had to come out to play.
Sarah — who finds it impossible to sit still — decided that she wanted to see Stone Town, one of the most historical — and most desolate — parts of Zanzibar.
Simon advised us to take a taxi to the market and make our way through Stone Town to reach Forodhani Gardens, the beach area where all the tourist attractions are.
THIS WAS BAD ADVICE.
Let’s take a look at a map of Stone Town, shall we?
is where we were dropped off, right outside of the markets
is Forodhani Gardens, where we want to go
is Stone Town, where we needed to cross to get to Forodhani Gardens
In somewhere like New York or Toronto, with straight and clearly marked streets, this would have been no problem. But this was not New York or Toronto. In Stone Town, most of the roads are tiny back alleys with buildings stretching 30-40 feet above you. In short, if you’re claustrophobic, this is not the place you want to be!
Conflict-Ready Casey briskly walked with Sarah through all of this, warily eyeing everyone who eyed them back as they darted from alley to alley, trying to keep an eye on their direction of travel so they would end up endlessly lost or in a dead-end.
After 15-20 minutes of trying to find a way through this madness, they eventually emerged on the other side near Forodhani Gardens and came across a pair of tourists trying to find their way on a map. I walked up to them and in my best Canadian accent possible said:
“Mind if we share your map?”
And so, that’s how we eventually found our way to Forodhani Gardens. (Don’t even get me started on the precautions we took every time we needed to exchange cash at Forodhani Gardens! Oh man. Next time, all money in advance.)
After our Stone Town escapade, we finally reached Forodhani Gardens and checked out a few things along the beach:
the House of Wonders (the Wonders weren’t all that wonderful, in my opinion)
the Palace Museum (see: House of Wonders)
Mercury’s (a very touristy restaurant with touristy — read: not amazing — food), where the only interesting thing was this item on the menu:
Finding a taxi back to Imani, as usual, was another adventure in itself — with guys trying to usher us into unmarked taxi cards and trying to offer Sarah “extra-special prices” (of 5,000 Tanzanian shillings extra), we eventually got them to cut the crap and found our way back.
The Adventure to Kendwa
Another thing that Sarah wanted to see were the beaches on the north end of the island, knowing their reputation for being utterly beautiful.
While she wouldn’t be disappointed, getting there wasn’t going to be easy. Getting a ride worked out pretty well, with our bartender offering to take u there and show us around for a reasonable sum. But the drive there wouldn’t be without complications, such as:
the fact that many gas stations cut their gasoline (or “petrol”) with water, which is a not-so-slow death for a car engine, causing numerous stalls when you’re trying to get anywhere
the sheer number of police checkpoints littered across the main roads; I was told that if I was asked any questions to introduce myself as a relative and to inform the cops that we were “going to see family”
We would eventually make it, and when we did, we were welcomed by sights like this:
With some time spent on the beach and some mediocre food eaten at the beachfront restaurant, we headed out to get Haji back to work for his evening shift and call the Zanzibar leg of the trip a wrap!
One more sleep and we’d be heading to Arusha, where the Kilimanjaro chapter of the trip begins!!!
Tell your wife, tell your kids, tell your husbands: