From Sunrise to Summit: The Tanzania Chronicles #9

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.


DAY FOUR

Barranco – Karanga
Hike: 5.1 km
3900m – 4100m
3-4 hours

“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


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.


DAY FIVE

Karanga – Barafu
Hike: 3.5 km
4100m – 4330m
3-4 hours

“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.


DAY SIX

Barafu – Summit – Mweka
Hike: 17.4 km
4330m – 5895m – 3075m
13 – 15 hours

“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:

The Tanzania Chronicles — Day 6 — Summit — Sunrise
This? This is probably one of the most beautiful sights you could ever see. (Photo courtesy of Trevor Craig)

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:

Another hour or so, and I would’ve made it! My legs were DONE, 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.


DAY SEVEN

Mweka – Arusha
Hike: 8.8 km
3075m – 1645m
3-4 hours

“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…

–case p.

‘cross Waters from Dar and Strange Men in Cars — Zanzibar: The Tanzania Chronicles #6

A picture overlooking Dar es Salaam from the Accomondia hotel window
While I can draw SOME parallels between Toronto and Dar es Salaam, the view is NOT one of them…

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.

The top deck of the ferry we rode to Zanzibar
Open concept sea travel.

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.

Imani Beach Villa in Bububu, Zanzibar
Imani Beach Villa — despite it being on Fuji Beach in Bububu, if you’re not a beach person, this is the place for you!

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….

Stone Town

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?

A map of Stone Town indicating the points of interest for my story
It looks so easy to navigate from space! Source: http://www.expertafrica.com/area_map/Stone_Town.htm
  1. is where we were dropped off, right outside of the markets
  2. is Forodhani Gardens, where we want to go
  3. 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.

A sketch of what I look like when I'm ready to get into conflict?
Wanna mug me? Wanna steal my luggage? Wanna mess with me? I wouldn’t even TRY it.

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:

    The Toronto Tumbler — a drink on the menu for Mercury's in Zanzibar
    I really should’ve asked them HOW this cocktail got its name!

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:

A shot of the white sands and unbelievably blue waters of Kendwa Beach
You need to see this to believe it!

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!!!

–case p.

Dragon Dictation: The Tanzania Chronicles #3

Sometimes you don’t really have much to write; those are the times where you need to switch it up a little. Today’s voice post represents stepping away from always trying to find something momentous to write about and sometimes just taking a good look at wherever I happen to be in life.

To further the point, I dictated a little bit in Dragon Dictation to give you an idea of its accuracy.

Here’s the original text:

Cercaria looking from the voice post I’m actually dictating this post in Dragon dictation to show you just how accurate it can be and I am trying to just broaden my horizons with the making of producing content what options they have for getting things done and maybe this will be another twilling my utility belt of things they use in order to get things done I hope you aren’t Chiu saddened by the voice to listen just how ill-prepared sounds will see how that works in the future this just one of those random experiments and maybe I’m hoping I don’t know I’m waiting for three weeks to be ouch for Tanzania hopefully I can Kopelson call him beforehand.

Here’s what it’s supposed to say:

So continuing from the voice post I’m actually dictating this post in Dragon dictation to show you just how accurate it can be and I am trying to just broaden my horizons with the making of producing content what options they have for getting things done and maybe this will be another tool in my utility belt of things I use in order to get things done I hope you aren’t too saddened by the voice post and just how ill-prepared it sounds we’ll see how that works in the future this is just one of those random experiments and maybe I’m hoping I can come up with content for the three weeks I’ll be away in Tanzania hopefully I can come up with something beforehand.

…obviously I need to work on my enunciation. We’ll see how this works.

–case p.

P.S. Hey, for you folks at home, if you’re looking to do a voice post, here’s some very basic rules you should think about following that I learned from recording this one!

  1. When you’re even a little congested, the microphone will make you sound like you bwoke your node!
  2. Remember that you may have more than one mic around you. Yes, there’s one in those fancy Apple headphones, too!
  3. KISS: Keep it Simple, Stupid! Or Short. Or Somewhat-Interesting. No one wants to hear you ramble about things that only matter to you.

The 2K11 24/7 CCXLIX: FOMO

If you were to ask Sarah, she could confirm for you that despite the boundless mass that is my ego, there ARE things that I absolutely SUCK at.

And one of those things is SLEEPING.

I’ll admit it — I’m a bit of a workaholic. I’m up at all hours of night scribbling things down. Tweaking this. Thinking about that. Reading things I always meant to read. Working on reducing a pile that always seems to stay the same size. Yeah, I’m always doing something — definitely a bit of a workaholic in me.

But , as can be done with many of the problems and issues we face day in and day out, this can be traced to a human folly that I share with many others — a fear of missing out.

The 2K11 24/7 CCXLVIII: Reaction Distraction!

The only ones in control of ourselves IS ourselves. The actions we take, the reactions we make — they’re all linked to how we wish to be connected to the world and the value we wish to impart unto everything around us.

Sometimes we react far too quickly. We all have buttons that people (sometimes unintentionally) push time and time again, whether we know what they are or not. But it’s how we choose to react that makes all the difference. Some of us are hot-tempered. Some of us have the patience of ancient masters of Zen and chi. But it can make the difference between an argument and a conversation.Have you ever said something stupid and wish that you could take it back? Sometimes we open our mouths and get ourselves into unnecessary trouble. I don’t have enough fingers to count the number of times I wish I could go back in time by 30 seconds and tell myself to shut up, because I won’t want the consequences of the weight my words hold.But there’s some of us who’re worse repeat offenders than others. We all know them — people who never seem to find the right thing to say, forever making any social interaction, whether individually or in a group, horribly awkward, and not giving the incentive to want to have them happen again anytime soon.