Kilimanjaro: the Journey

     In February I climbed to the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro.  It came at a time in my life when I felt a little stagnant and needed something to clear my head.

Getting ready to go!!

     Kilimanjaro was extreme from one end to the other: the bottom extreme heat, the summit extreme cold.  The final climb to the summit was a night journey out of a nightmare.  It took place from midnight until noon, and though we were well-bundled, my fingers and toes were freezing and hard.  The first hint of sunrise was encouraging, but full sunrise, with its full heat…took its time.

Sunrise on the summit

     Kilimanjaro flows through five ecosystems: rainforest, the Heather zone, Moorland, Alpine Desert, and the ice walls.  My favorite was the rainforest, with its thick arched trees and shy black-and-white monkeys.

Kilimanjaro monkeys
The alpine desert

     The Alpine Desert was awe-inspiring.  The view is stark and barren and there are no living creatures to be seen – only a little moss.  (Even insects don’t want to be there.  Just us.)  The air is dusty and thin, there’s intense radiation from the sun, and the lack of oxygen and the surreal environment get to your head.  I felt totally alone, even with all the other people there.  It was as though we were on some fantastical planet.

     As for the stars – they were the most fantastic stars I’ve ever seen.

Me.  Yup, I lwas happy to be there!

     Our group was great.  Everone was motivated by a deeply personal reason.  In my case, it was about overcoming fear and tackling things which intimidate me.  Two of the women had recently overcome cancer and had a fresh relish for life; one person had a debilitating year at work.

Our fantastic group
Our situation also fostered intimacy.  The Kilimanjaro climb is intense, and we were always together: eating, sleeping, climbing, and suffering.  We opened up to each other.
     The Tanzanian people are poor but happy.  Song and dance are an inherent part of their culture.  They taught me Tanzanian songs, and I taught them Beatles and Michael Jackson.  They take pride in having gained independence from the British without spilling a drop of blood.  They’re an intelligent, open-minded, loving people.
The porters!

     Of our guides, Felix the Cook was my favorite.  Mr. Reggae Man, squinting his eyes suspiciously at you, swiveling his hips as he sings songs to himself in the morning, spitting out random words in English, muttering to himself in Swahili when he’s disgusted with you, protuding his lower lip and glaring, crowing like a rooster in the morning, shrieking porters’ names, thumping the back of a chair as a drum and cackling a garbled tuneless chorus when I taught him hip-hop songs.

Daniel our gorgeous guide!
Wise Julius, the grizzled ancient who spoke to me for hours about the history and geography of Tanzania.  And deeply intelligent Daniel, our main guide.  When I offered one of the porters a donut, Daniel had him share with two others, declining for himself.  His workers responded to his requests within seconds, and you can tell they respect and love him.
 Before the climb, we were told that the mountain has a soul of its own.  We felt that this was so.  Maybe we were projecting, but at different stages the mountain felt cruel, relaxed, angry, combative, determined, or joyful.  The varying landscapes seemed like a physical reflection of its moods.  I will never forget walking the bare alpine desert and thinking how isolated each of us is, encapsulated within his or her own body and thoughts.
     I was happy that I had gotten to know the mountain, and I was also happy to bid it goodbye.
 
  • This trip was taken in order to raise money for children with Down Syndrome and the other Trisomy disorders.  This is in honor of my cousin,, who died of Trisomy 18.  To find out more and contribute:   http://www.gofundme.com/kidswds

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