Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Kilimanjaro

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I watched the sun rise from Africa’s tallest mountain.

How did this happen?

Four years ago I was contently living in Laguna beach enjoying a life of dinner parties, nights filled with friends and wine on the balcony, weekends full of farmer’s markets, cooking, and surfing. Here I am – “partnerless” on a deck on an island off the coast of Tanzania – Africa… looking at the clearest blue water I’ve ever seen.

Four days ago I stood on the highest point on this content. I watched the sun rise. I did a dance. I said a prayer in my heart – a prayer of pure thanks.

What a gift.

Our trek to the tip top of Africa took 7 days; Three nights of camping somewhere between 10k and 13k feet and one night at just over 15k feet. Each camp bringing new perspective of the mountain, the team, our guides, and ourselves. I loved it.

At one point at the camp on day four, I walked out of the mess tent to use the restroom and Janine stopped me on her way to bed. “Turn off your headlamp.” After following her instructions I looked up to see the prize (one of many): A sky so full of stars that I had to search to find the darkness. And when I did find the darkness, it was the silhouette of the tallest mountain in Africa, and our destination.

Magic, magic, magic – gifts abound.

Each day on the mountain brings about a thousand new experiences per minute. Laughter, singing English songs, singing Swahili songs, questions about life in Africa, questions about life in the US, Australia, Uganda, the UK, Luxemburg, questions about the mountains and a million answers, pure joy, pure frustration, exhaustion, tears, and then again – pure joy. I speak for myself when I say that I laid in my sleeping bag each night (with two pairs of tights, a thermal, a t-shirt, a PUFFY JACKET, a hat, two pairs of socks, gloves, a sleeping bag liner, a sleeping bag, AND a hot bottle of water – to keep warm) exhausted, but wide awake trying to soak it all in.

I walked mostly in the back of the group on Kili. There was no reason, other than I needed a little bit more space. I’m used to living alone – not having to constantly interact with people. I put my headphones in for the first time on the first day of Kili. Old music reminded me of old times, magnifying how far I’ve come physically, mentally, emotionally.

By day 3 our youngest member of the team (which really has nothing to do with anything), Lyndall, was sick. Not a bug, but altitude sickness. She turned into a zombie in front of our eyes at 14,000 feet. Literally, not moving anything but her feet, not saying a word, clearly struggling to get enough oxygen. Our lead guide, Ema took her bag, called for more porters to come from camp to help in getting her from point A to point B – a large hill, a large (mean) valley, and another large uphill climb. She made it to camp, but was very sick. At that point, most of us were sure that we were about to lose our first team member to altitude. I was seriously bummed – we’d bagged the first two peaks as a team of 11 women. It never occurred to me that we wouldn’t get them all.

On our “short days” – any hike less than 8 hours – Ema would take us on an acclimatization hike. The point of these little two hour hikes was really just to keep us awake until dinner. Apparently you take in less oxygen when you sleep- he didn’t want us doing that in the middle of the day. On day 3, Lyndall slept and missed the acclimatization hike but was her normal, bubbly self when we returned to camp.

We were all shocked when Ema told us on day four that Lyndall would be making the summit attempt with us at midnight.

We may have slept for two or three hours before the “Simba Growl” woke us up at 11pm. Most of us already dressed in our warmest clothes for summit attempt, we piled into the mess tent for whatever we could muster down our bellies, water for the camelbacks and last minute packing. By 12:20 am we were on trail – stuck behind the traffic of 40 (FREAKIN SLOW) Brits wearing reflective vests (WHY!?!?!? Were they going to get hit by a car on Africa’s highest mountain??? SO LAME!!!!!) Right – so it took us a while to get going…

I stuck my headphones in right away (thank you, Airborne Toxic Event for guiding me up!!!), turned my headlamp off, and looked up. Stars. Everywhere. The dipper, Orion, Venus, Jupiter. MADNESS. No moon. Only stars and the headlamps pointing up, up, up.

Magic again.

Lydall was not well. I love the kid. It was Australia day. For some reason, I felt compelled to get her up the mountain. So every 45 minutes or so I shoved some kind of frozen cliff bar, jelly bean, shot-block, or electrolyte substance down her throat. She was not well. Christie – our other Aussie also started to feel the altitude about an hour into the hike – before I knew it I was holding one of two hands as we trudged up the mountain. I kept reminding them (really, to remind myself) “LOOK UP! THIS IS THE PRIZE!!!” It was. All of it.

Lyndall bounced between being latched to me, Ema, or Daniel the entire hike. At some points she was latched to two or three of us. Somehow, the girl locked into a pace and didn’t waver once. No alternative- she was going to get to the top of the mountain.

To be clear how amazing the Amazing Lyndall is:  At one point I asked her if she needed to cover her face from the intensely cold wind and she said yes. When I handed her her buff she looked at it, looked at me, looked at it again and said “I can’t get it over my head.” I took her hat off, looked at her watery, tranced eyes, put her buff on, kissed her forehead and said, “Look at me,” she did, “you do NOT have to do this.” She nodded. I put her hat on, and off we went. She will always be a symbol of strength for me. Using her brain to overcome the physical limitations altitude pressed on her.

When Christie felt sick for the second time I was told to go on without her. So I did. It was only about 10 minutes before I realized that despite the fact that it was probably 5 degrees out there, I was HOT. VERY HOT. Sweating hot. Suffering. I was absolutely going to barf. I looked at Mbise, behind me and told him “I have to stop.” He was shocked, he didn’t understand what I was saying until I stopped and sat at the nearest rock. I wasn’t willing to cry, but prepped myself to throw up. Suddenly Daniel was running down the mountain towards me “Are you OKAY!?!?” Yeah, yeah, I just need a minute to barf.” I didn’t barf. They made me move on. I felt better. (I needed food.)

It happened once more before I bounced back completely. Those guides will never really understand what role they played in our success. We absolutely would not have cleared any summit without their assistance. Amazing men, they are.

About 5 hours after we took our first steps, we saw our first sign of natural light. When she rose, she exposed the plains I’d dreamed of seeing for so long. The altitude and the view battled for my oxygen. I just watched. I said prayers of thanks.

Why am I so lucky to have this experience?

Soon after the sunrise came Stella Point. From Stella Point we could see the summit – not too far off, and not too far up. I told Lyndall that she was going to make it. She sobbed and sobbed. I cried. Ema watched. I saw him mouth the words “the Amazing Lyndall.”

Sunscreen, a break, and soon enough there was Christie – a few steps behind with the last three guides. We screamed. Each of us that had attempted summit were now within reach. We got this.

Lyndall needed to pee. So did I. There isn’t much to hide behind at 19,000 feet. We walked around the rock. I took off her gloves, and undid her pants for her. I stood and held myself as a brace for her. When she was done, I went. Literally, as I’m peeing, I look over and see Lyndall standing like Frankenstein with her pants undone – in total view of all the hikers going by. She looked at me and said, “I can’t do my pants.” I laughed, hard. Finished my business, buttoned her pants, buttoned my pants, and off we went.

We held hands for the last hour to the summit, finally reaching it 8.5 hours after our first steps behind the annoying Brits with the reflective vests. We took turns crying there. Enjoying our success. Lyndall taking turns collapsing on to us. I’m sure part of the reason I was so emotional was because of her success. The Amazing Lyndall. What a stud.

The summit was quick. I developed a headache the size of – kili, but was hell-bent on making sure I enjoyed every second of being on the roof of Africa. I took jumping pictures and smiling pictures. I took video. I stopped. Did my best to breathe it all in. The prize.

Getting down was fast. It took us 8.5 hours to get up and then, the final prize for the day – they let me RUN DOWN THE MOUNTAIN!!! 2 hours to get down through the deepest scree I could have imagined. HEAVEN! Mbise and I tore it up going down. I laughed the entire way. By the time we reached camp again – 11 hours after the start, I was pooped and had a gnarly headache.

I fell asleep halfway inside my tent-halfway outside my tent with my tights, hiking boots (no socks) and a tank top on. Our camp manager, Simba found me this way and took my shoes off, helped me clean my feet. Opened the tent to let more air in, and tucked me into bed for the well deserved nap.

The crew, the guides, the porters, the cooks, the team, the animals, the music, the mountains. All of them have created my version of this place I call Africa.

Gifts abound. I have fallen in love.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Randomness from Zanzibar

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I love Africa. I’m in Zanzibar at the Bungalow/Resort in an internet café. I just ordered an iced cappuccino that cost 4,000 shillings (about $2.50) – I gave the lady 10,000 shillings… she responded “don’t you need anything else?” meaning, “I don’t have change for this.” The same thing happened in the Kilimanjaro Airport yesterday. I gave the lady $100 for the $55 surcharge for extra weight (expected). To get me change, she made me wait about 10 minutes until she was done checking us in (yes, me, Christie, and Lyndall were the ONLY ones in the entire airport) then walked us around from little store to little store to try to find someone with $45 in change. No one had it, so she asked us to wait at the little café while she went to the bureau of change to try to find some money. Anyway – these are just a couple more little things that are different about this place – things I adore.

I opted to use the remaining 5,500 shillings for internet use in a little bit (no wi-fi here – shocking…)

For the love of all things beautiful – Zanzibar is STUNNING. I’m still in Tanzania – but this island feels like a million miles away from the place I left yesterday afternoon.

Truth: I’m in a little bit of a funk. You spend 20 days on a mountain and you sorta get used to it. Not to mention the fact that we were totally spoiled on the mountain by the best guides and crew 11 girls could ask for. I miss them – terribly. I loved interacting with them, loved listening to their stories, laughing, singing… and on and on. The north part of Zanzibar (where we are staying) is very resort-ish… so there isn’t as much opportunity to connect with the locals here (plus, as I’m learning – it’s not really expected that you would connect with locals here). I am very excited about getting to Uganda to learn about the kids and culture there.

So- Zanzibar… how did this happen? Yes, I was supposed to go straight from the climb to Jinja to begin working tomorrow. I bonded quickly with the two Aussies on the trip (shocking), Lyndall and Christie, and one other American – Janine… all of which had planned this trip to Zanzibar post-climb. They talked me into it. I figured the chances of me spending five days on an island off the coast of Africa with some of my dearest new friends again any time soon was – slim to none. So I grabbed at the opportunity and here I am! I also really need some time to process all of this. In case the blogs don’t tell you enough about the state of my brain right now… I’m a little bit confused about where I’ve been, where I am, or where I’m going.

Sooooo – Zanzibar will include rest, kayaking, snorkeling, floating in the water, soaking up the hot, humid sunshine, hanging with the girls, and processing the last four weeks (or, four years?) Hurray!!!








Eventually I'll get the part about the Kili climb written and posted (SOOOO AMAZING!!!)

Frustration

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For everything that I love about Africa, the ONE THING that drives me crazy (ok, there may be a couple other things that drive me crazy - but this drives me THE MOST crazy) is the technology issue.

I have some stinking HILARIOUS, GREAT videos to post that will really help explain what I've been doing for the last month... but of course, it will take another 208 minutes to load the video... which will cost me another 208 minutes of time that could be spent sitting on the deck, drinking some tropical cocktail and watching the sun go down as well as another 15 bucks. (Yes, the time is the issue.)

Someday I will find a good connection again... I promise!!!

I've posted a bunch of new pics on FB and will try again to get the videos uploaded tomorrow.

SUNSET TIME!!!

Zanzibar Bound

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I cannot believe it’s been 28 days since I left home. The peaks/mountain climbing portion of this trip is over. I have bittersweet feelings about it ending.

Kili, Meru, Mt Kenya, SIC, LWF, St Jude’s and all of the experiences between the planned events that tie the minutes to hours to days to weeks together each deserve their own space here. The moments between the moments deserve their own space here… but time takes on funny form in Africa. Everything (EVERYTHING) is late, but not late because no one really pays attention to time… there’s not really such a thing as being “on time” (unless of course, you’re working with Europeans or Americans). You learn very quickly to go with the flow. It’s nice really – once you get used to it.

Right so I was saying… Time has flown. I can’t believe the climbs are over. A success in every way. All 11 of us reaching the top of each mountain – certainly fighting our own battles internally and externally along the way. I am so proud of our team… so happy to have been part of it.

At the same time that I’m shocked that the climbs are over and that I’ve already been here a month, I can’t believe how LONG it feels like I’ve been gone. I swear I can barely see the place I called home. It has to have been three years ago that I left Epicor. A lifetime ago since I ran my favorite trails singing along to my favorite music… dancing when I could find the breath.

New forms of life have taken over - like the forest we climbed down yesterday to complete our decent from the top of Africa. Well, Africans call it a forest – I call it a jungle. The endless trails are hidden from the sun by the tall, thin, leafy trees that seem to be draped in some kind of moss, or grass. Monkeys swing from tree to tree (this sounds really amazing, but turns out they’re just oversized, mean rodents… I think of them like seagulls, but smarter, and more aggressive), butterflies ABOUND, cool breezes blow through, and occasionally the bluest sky will poke through the greenest leaves and allow the sun to trickle through. If you pay enough attention or bother to turn around at the right time, the tallest point on Africa will show her face… So a potentially uneventful day of hiking down the mountain proves to be another entirely new, mind blowing experience. I walked behind the group by several feet and stopped to breathe it in. “What if I never come back here?” and then the really mind-boggling question “what else is out there on this planet that I MUST SEE???”

Other randomness to process: Shoes, everywhere. So odd, random shoes in the middle of the street! Last night we had a big celebratory dinner and ended up at a club. I stepped out the back door (not really a back door, cause there weren’t really doors…) of the club into a courtyardish area to make a phone call. And of course – there were shoes on the ground. Random shoes. Then – about three hours later I look up to see a traditional Masai warrior gettin’ his groove on on the dance floor.

These little moments or hours seem to fill the space in my head that was once occupied by stress with work, home and relationships. Constant processing of the newness around me has stripped me of any opportunity of worry. While I realize I have a lot to catch up on with regards to the blog and relationships at home, I’m still in the process of letting the experiences of the last four weeks wash through me – trying to make sense of all of them.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Update - Jan 20. T-Minus 1 Day to KILI!!!

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I wrote the following as an email to a friend. I figured I would just paste it here instead of regurgitating it all again for the blog. More pics and video to come!!!

Sorry it’s taken me so long to get back to you. Today is the first authentic rest day we’ve had since I saw you last (CRAZY!!!). I woke up early to thoughts of the email I would be constructing for you today and thought I should just get up, shower and write!

So – I’m at the Ilburu Safari Lodge in Arusha. Of course, this is a posh little place filled with Brits, Americans, and French (ack! ;-), but just off the property is the dirt road lined with shanty-shack-stores, chickens, donkeys, and MANY MANY KIDS!!! I love it. I’m sitting on the veranda of the dining room (alone) and have a perfect view of the kids walking to school, the mama’s cleaning the shops for the day (one of them is singing… she has no idea that she has already made this American girl’s day - and it’s only 8 am!!!), rogue chickens and dogs, boys riding their oversized circa 1974 bikes, and trucks bouncing along – ignoring the fact that they have no business driving on this “street”…

Where the hell do I start!?!?!? 

We finished Meru on Weds afternoon. I LOVE LOVE LOVE Mt Meru – it reminds me of Baldy – but not as kind, and much higher. She is also GORGEOUS – jungle-ish in the beginning and obviously rocky towards the top. She’s a volcano, so the climb is mostly along the ridge. It looked like torrential rain and wind were going to stall our summit – but our 1 am wake up returned no rain, a little wind and lots and lots of very thick, wet fog. As we got higher, the wind got stronger. At one point during the night it seriously felt like we were in a trance – the wind too strong to hear anything else and the elevation, altitude and sandy terrain forcing short-shuffle steps – and the fog limiting our vision to the feet of the people in front of us. Hello, twilight zone. True to form, as the sun came out, the terrain got steeper, and I could see the summit – I got stronger. I scrambled my way to the top behind Frederick (the man with the gun) who kept asking me if I was ok because I was breathing so hard. I was in EFFING HEAVEN!!! The summit returned stunning views of Kili and the ash cone below. 
The summit of Socialist Peak
  


Team at the summit!!!





Kili - Looming...


:) :) :) Jumping for joy at Rhino Point - Almost down!!! (Courtesy of Katherine!)

 I wanted to run down. They wouldn’t let me. 

The way down - an homage to my nieces and nephews...

We stayed in huts on Meru. It was so much fun – like being at camp again!!! (Except we had Simba growling along and bringing us coffee and tea in bed – so spoiled, and so so so happy.)

Simba, plus hut, plus coffee = SUPER HAPPY STEPH

It took us a day and a half to descend. I hadn’t had a shower in four days. We literally walked off the mountain, got into a bus, and drove to the School of St Jude where they had 700 kids and an assembly of performances waiting for us.

KIDS!!! Video to come!

Getting off the bus, 11 little munchkins greeted us, each child taking one of our hands. Faith, a 13 year old (who looked like an 8 year old) grabbed my hand and led me to food. (WE WERE STARVING!!!) We ate ugali and some kind of eggplant saucy thing (totally standard) and then were led to the very front of the auditorium. The kids melted me. They sang and danced. I laughed so hard. I felt so happy that it was hard not to cry. Eventually they brought us to the stage where we were lucky enough (errr, sorta) to introduce ourselves and perform for the school. (WE WERE AWFUL!!!) The second half of our performance included our guides (omg, I love our guides, I need to tell you about OUR GUIDES!!!). We sang Jambo (Jambo buana...)

I’m not sure how or what exactly happened, but all of the sudden the kids were on their feet, screaming and laughing and waving their sweaters… perfect, pure joy… and definitely one of the top 5 experiences of my life. Unbelievable.

Is this too long yet? Hope not. I have so much more to tell you…

I spend a lot of time trying to organize the thoughts and stories in my head; constructing folders and files and making sense of it all. Then I realize I’ve done it wrong and I attempt to reconstruct the puzzle. At some point I will reconcile the fact that trying to fit things into a box right now just isn’t reasonable and let each experience and memory run through me and over me like a shower.

It is cleansing, all of this. Though I can safely say that I’ve never been so dirty. :)

While the mountains have provided a needed physical challenge and some SERIOUS happiness for me, I gotta say, the best experiences here come from interacting with the African people.

At our first camp on Mt Meru it was finally warm enough to be outside. I was able to lay on the picnic table and stare at the stars. I have never seen so many. The porters were lingering around and before I knew it, we were talking about our homes, families, and histories. I spoke with them for an hour before heading into the mostly empty mess hall. Simba, Daniel, Hussein, and Peter were deep in conversation in Swahili. After asking them if I could join them (and promising them I wouldn’t force them to speak English for me) I bellied up and preceded to listen to a conversation that I could tell was intense, but had no clue of the subject. Eventually Hussein took pity on me and explained that we were listening to Peter’s philosophy on the psychology of introverts versus extroverts. I listened and talked to them for hours. (I love love love these men… I can’t even tell you…)

I’m conducting my own little human behavior experiment in my head. Some of these people have SO LITTLE. When I say “SO LITTLE,” I mean – “nothing” by American standards. (I could go on and on about this – but you know the drill, and it’s not the point anyway…) That being said – they worry about the same things we worry about – love and money. They fear what we fear – being alone. And want what we want – security. I gravitate to the locals. I want to hear what they’re willing to tell me. I have fallen in love with these people.

People from home have asked if I’m happy. The question stops me. Happy? I honestly haven’t thought about whether I’m happy or not in 20 days. To me, it is huge. The notion of not having to ponder my happiness must mean that I have landed in a very good place. I don’t worry so much about my future. Best of all – I have shaken the anxiety that seemed to live perpetually with me before now.

Happy. Yes. 
Photo courtesy of Katherine - photographer extraordinaire

There is so much more… Support for International Change. The women who told us their stories of struggling to live with HIV, rape, children, no money, deserting husbands… and on and on. The sadness and the happiness coincide so well here that it’s hard to know how to define it.
 
I will get on skype as soon as possible, but so far – internet has been less than shoddy (i.e., super shit). When I get to Uganda I will buy a dongle.

Ok - I'm off again. Time to buy plane tickets for Zanzibar! (Did I tell you I'm going to Zanzibar???)

xxxx - Steph

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Playing Beauty Parlor...

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I needed a hair cut before I left - I ran out of time.

Luckily - Katie was kind enough to help me out!

It's just a three-inch cut. My hair feels SO MUCH BETTER!!!


January 12, 12 - Mt Kenya:

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Maybe I’m crazy, but I don’t think I remember anyone telling me how DIFFICULT this climb would be!!! The first three days were easy – four or five hours of hiking trails that were not very steep – altitude being the biggest issue. We camped at 10,000 feet the first night (the same altitude as the summit of Mt Baldy), 13,300 the second, and 14,100 the third. I opted out of taking any altitude sickness meds and luckily – had no issues other than the fact that it was difficult to breathe after running to the restroom or trying to get something out of the tent.
Up, up, up - day 2!


This mountain is wild. She doesn’t look that big at first sight… but she’s tricky. Her long, soft rolling hills at the base of the mountain fool you into thinking that the spear-like summit(s) might actually be easy to get to. Not true.
The summit as viewed from camp on night three (last camp before summit).

Our summit climb (technically day 4) started with a 2 am wake up call. By just after 3 were climbing – literally – straight up – at 15,000 ft. I don’t mind climbing early, I don’t mind climbing up, I don’t mind altitude, I don’t mind climbing in the dark, and I certainly don’t mind wearing a day pack – but combine all of the elements and you get a dizzy, tired, imbalanced version of me struggling for oxygen. I SUFFERED!

The last three miles of the climb were a scramble and were more difficult than anything I’ve ever done, I think partly because my legs were already spent from the first part of the morning’s climb, and partly because of the altitude – 16,000 ft. (I’m sure it has nothing to do with the fact that I hadn’t really trained to do anything like this. HA!)

The prize(s):

-       Climbing to the summit with a full moon literally lighting up the sky and the ground, helping us along the way.
-       The first signs of light about two hours into the climb, allowing us to see the lakes that surround the peaks that make up the several summits of Mt Kenya. 
First sign of light

-       The rise of the sun in all of her glory – watching the atmosphere adjust to her warmth and light. 
Breathtaking

-       The feeling of strength of mind, spirit, body, and unity when we all reached the Lenana Point. 

-       The view of Africa from Kenya’s (almost) highest point. Seeing Kili looming in the distance. Taking it all in. Trying so hard to recognize every second for the gift that it is. 


 Coming off the mountain wasn’t too much easier than going up. The summit is literally so steep that they’ve installed cables to hold onto to. I loved the initial decent. It was a lot like repelling without a harness… Just hold on, lean back, and let gravity do the hard work. It was SO much fun. I giggled most of the way off the summit rocks, through the ice and the snow and down to the “Austrian Hut” – where the team gathered again for the long, long, steep, scree-infested decent (which I loved, but managed to fall four times…). 
Almost down- resting the feet.

Summit day was definitely the most difficult – 15 hours of hard climbing up, lack of oxygen, and then climbing down through the scree, what I would call a desert, the “vertical bog” and the forest – which we affectionately dubbed the “rain forest” seeing as it started raining as soon as we walked into it.

(The forest was AMAZING – really, a stunning way to end the day. I’ve never seen anything quite like it.)
 
We finished our time on Mt Kenya with a nice, slightly downhill, six-mile hike (spotting monkeys all along the way) to the entrance gate for Mt Kenya where we were greeted by 40 beautiful men singing and dancing in celebration of our success, champagne, beer, and laughter followed. 
Kind of a crap pic - but there are MONKEYS!!!

I’ve never met a mountain quite like Mt Kenya – but then, I’ve never been to a place quite like Kenya. The warmth and kindness of the people here is almost as striking as the fierceness of their mountain. Gratitude abounds. 
Celebratory drink treats at the gate!!!

Friday, January 13, 2012

Notes from Arusha - Fri, Jan 13

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So I don't have a lot of time, or energy - but wanted to post a sort of "live" blog...

We have arrived in Arusha. I love it here. In fact - I love Africa. I might actually love it more than I thought I would. I have a million reasons why I love it so - but they will have to wait. Suffice to say - this place is amazing.

Updates to come (hopefully tomorrow) on the Mt Kenya climb, the Laikipia Wildlife Forum (ELEPHANTS!!!), my haircut!, the drive from Nanyuki to Arusha (including being harassed by a couple prick policemen in the Masai region), The School of St Jude!!!!, and so so so much more.

Thanks for following... I am trying to keep up with the blogs, internet is shoddy at best (meaning, we've lost power 5 times in the last hour...), but I am writing it all down as I can.

xoxo


Toting 11 Women Up a Mountain...

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Logistics of getting 11 of us up the mountain (at least, the way we did it) are amazing – and embarrassing.

It took 40 – yes, FORTY – men carrying everything from tents to sleeping bags to mattresses, to food, to toilets, to chairs, to tables our own personal gear (not in our day packs) and anything else you could possibly think of needing – or wanting on the mountain to get us to the summit. I’d heard rumors that this wasn’t actually going to be “roughing it” – but I had no clue how ridiculously cushy this would be.
The crew - readying for Mt Kenya (in the distance...)


Here’s the breakdown:
Guides: 4 - Ema (Emmanuel) – Lead Guide, Simon, Peter, and Elijah
Camp Manager: 1 - Simba
Camp Assistants: 3
Cooks: 2
Porters: 30

Here is my perception of how the whole thing worked (I could be totally wrong about this)…

The guides are responsible for the hiking part only – making sure are were healthy and safe. The Camp Manager, Simba, is responsible for camp setup and breakdown, for feeding us, and for snacks along the way (yes, we had picnics mid-hike… CRAZY!) The Camp Assistants help Simba with serving meals and directing porters in camp setup and breakdown. The porters are the meat and potatoes of the operation. They carry a LOT of gear on their backs up the mountain and do most of the heavy lifting, setup etc.

Me & the guides - Mt Kenya - Last Day!

We got to know and love our guides and Simba very quickly. We eventually began to talk and get to know the assistants, but the porters and cooks stayed away from the camp and were rarely seen outside of camp setup or breakdown. Yes, this is weird, and sad, and bothersome and suddenly the “required” tip didn’t seem so obnoxious. I did meet the porter who carried my bags – Dennis. He was a sweet young guy.

Each morning (except summit day) began with a rustling outside the tent, followed by Simba’s growl (literally, he would growl outside our tent to wake us up – effective!). The charming wake-up call would then be followed by tea service – or, in my case – coffee service. In the tent, in the sleeping bag, We were served breakfast, lunch and dinner in the giant “mess tent” by Simba and his helpers. The food is ridiculous-yummy - potato leak soups, omelets, crepes, stew, and on and on…
Simba - the growler

There were two special blue tents set up away from the sleeping tents - these were the toilets. I affectionately dubbed them “potty trainers” – which is exactly what they looked like. I didn’t use them often, but they were nice to have.
Toilet tent... 
See - POTTY TRAINER!!!

So you’re starting to understand… I lived better on the mountain than I did in Southern California. (I definitely ATE better than I did in SoCal… so much for weight loss…) Crazy.  
Camp - 13,000 ft

Thursday, January 5, 2012

First full day - Nairobi

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We are currently sitting at Barney's Airstrip at the in the Laikipia region of Kenya (at 6700 feet). Here are the notes from the team about our day yesterday.

We ate a lot of meat. Ox-balls, oyster balls (ostrich), crocodile.


We saw baboons!!! And PUMBAS! (On the side of the road- wild. Someone else has these pictures. I'll post them when I get them.)

We saw baby elephants and a rhino (elephant orphanage).
That baby weighs 220 lbs!!!!





We went to the bead factory. Everyone spent too much money, but me. (Not a bead girl- really, really amazing...)





We saw Karen Blixen's house. (I only know the one line from the movie - "I had a farm in Africa.")

We saw the biggest slum in East Africa... 1.5 million people live there. (REALLY wild... 1/4 of the people living in Nairobi live in this slum.)


We had gear check. (Hilarious... I'll post video of this too, later.)


I have a lot more to say about all of this, but given this rare opportunity to get WiFi - I'm giving you the cliff notes... and pics! Here are a few more cause I think they're fun...
Livi - Sporting her new gear.

The whole team - FINALLY TOGETHER!

Flat tire on the land cruiser.

The girls waiting for the boys to change the tire.

Where we are right this very moment...


Wednesday, January 4, 2012

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Ooook - Let me preface with the fact that I am having some SERIOUS technical challenges. They are not ALL related to the fact that I am in Africa - some of them are my lack of understanding how to use a Mac. (AGHHHHH!!!! I CANNOT get the pictures OFF the computer. Feel free to pipe in if you know how to make that happen.) I have some great pictures to post - once I freakin' figure out what I'm doing here!!!

I have ARRIVED! 


I got my first glimpse of land from the tiny window in the back of the plane (the back door). I didn’t realize we were so close to the ground – but there it was – the Sahara desert as seen with my own eyes. Honest, I cried and said “Hello, Africa!” As we landed I saw my first real African tree and fully expected to see a giraffe soon after. But didn’t.

All in all, getting here went off without a hitch. Everything on time – including my bags. Vanessa (one of the girls on the team who happened to book the same flight from London) and I spotted Charlotte as soon as we came through customs 

After a pretty awful flight (bumpy, crowded, etc, etc…) and a short line at customs that seemed to take forever, we arrived in Nairobi. I guess Nairobi looks exactly as I anticipated. It’s the biggest city in a developing country… very dusty, a TON of exhaust, people everywhere run down buildings, and a certain amount of excitement that only a new city can bring.

I am lucky enough to be rooming with Vanessa for the first two nights. She is great (my peeps for sure!)... Born and raised in Luxemburg, but went to an American school, has a German mother and an American father. Speaks like an American with a strange accent that pops out every once in a while, lived in Sydney for 7 years and now lives in London. Seriously... RAD.
A girl who loves her headlamp more than me!

The first day here was spent mostly trying to adjust to the new time (I am almost exactly ½ way across the world with an 11 hour time difference!).  I slept for an hour and a half by the pool… I woke up in a puddle of drool in a lounge chair… hilarious.

We found a mall that amazingly looked exactly like a mall you would find in orange county – only smaller. Not what I expected, really. We hung out and ate while we waited for the rest of the girls to arrive. By the time they got to us at the restaurant we were so looking forward to seeing them that we applauded as they walked in (easy to spot four white girls in a restaurant in Nairobi…). ;-) Energy abounded as we all talked about our routes and journeys here.

The last three women arrived later at the hotel. I can safely say – this is a great group. We range in age from 23 (to turn 24 on our first day on Mt Kenya – this Saturday) to 60 (Dee is AMAZING!!!). We get along great. We are all very different, but the commonality of what we’re about to do seems to have gelled us pretty well. I love that this truly seems like a nice group of women and I’m really looking forward to what this adventure holds!

More to come!!!