Blair at Base of Kilimanjaro

Somewhere in all of our minds there is a dream to do something or go somewhere out of this world. Mine has always been Africa. I could see myself in my dreams on a safari, watching the giraffe walk across the African Plains, or the lions sleeping on the warm rocks. I’d take a walk in the crystal ocean waters and admire the people in their daily life. It’s funny how those dreams seem so far off and then in the blink of an eye they are there, taking place as you had imagined and in a moment’s time you’re spending your days remembering how amazing it was.

My African Dream became a reality in November when three friends and I bought our round trip tickets to Tanzania. Our plans were to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro, take a 2-day safari amongst the African animals and then relax on the island of Zanzibar until our tickets home told us it was time.
Blair in Zanzibar

Despite its height at 19,340 feet I was determined to try climbing the infamous Mt. Kilimanjaro. The elliptical trainer, stair master, and swimming pool became my home away from home (and office). In the beginning, a friend of mine spotted me on the stair master and said, “Blair, you have a long way to go.” She wasn’t kidding. After 9 weeks of training, a series of shots and typhoid pills (which got the better half of me), more than 20 hours in the plane and a 45-minute drive to our hotel in Moshi, we were finally there. Too much excitement between the four of us had us playing cards for hours that first night under the most amazing sky. The stars filled what seemed like every inch of the darkness, so much that in the morning when we climbed off our rock hard beds we were shocked to see Kili hovering over us in the distance. It was as if we had forgotten it was going to be there.

We spent that first day in Moshi trying to walk off that long plane ride and seeing what the locals had to offer. Mostly they just stared at us. One member of our group, Marc, stands at about 6 feet 3 inches tall, towering over the locals. His height combined with our winterized white skin had us sticking out like sore thumbs. It was a good day but the climb ahead sent us back to the hotel to pack our bags for 6 days on the mountain.

The four of us had our own guide and porters for our climb. We each gave our porters 15 kilos of our weight and packed our daypacks with what we would need during the day. Once on the trail the porters took off with our packs on their heads, hiking swiftly for camp, while our guides repeated “Pole-Pole” to us. “Pole-Pole” is the local term they use to encourage hikers to walk “slowly slowly;” and that we did. Our pace together worked well for the four of us, we kept up with each other nicely. The first day we walked through the rainforest, past monkeys and strange looking flowers to the Mandara Hut where a warm meal and fairly comfortable bed long awaited us. The second day we walked out of the forest, on to the plains, and up to Horombo hut. The views were spectacular as we hiked above the clouds and continually plastered our pale bodies with sunscreen. Rounding the corner to Horombo was a sight for sore eyes; for that was definitely the hardest hike we had endured so far. The third day, we stayed at Horombo to help us acclimatize. Our much needed, and fairly short, day hike to 14,000 feet was filled a chilly rain and steep terrain. It reminded me of my love for the family fireplace with a warm cup of coffee in hand.

Camp was interesting to say the least and the huts were an experience like no other. The huts that have been built are there to minimize the impact left on the area and to encourage more tourists to attempt the hike. Each night there were between 60 and 80 people waiting their turn in the dining hut and tiptoeing quickly out of the repugnant facilities that have seen better days. Though everyone spoke English, languages from across the world filled the air. We all had a story to tell, some of us more than others, and we all had a common goal.

The last hut before the final approach to the summit is Kibo hut. The hike to Kibo was both intimidating and exciting. Once at Kibo, we bought a coke to celebrate the achievement of the day and to toast those yet to come. We were told to go to bed by 5pm because wake-up was at 11pm, and everyone would begin hiking at midnight. How were we supposed to sleep at 5pm with so much excitement ahead? I felt like a kid again only this time I got to fill my excitement with grown up stuff like how many pieces of candy I’d put in each pocket and how many hand warmers to bring. Which is actually a simple equation because the hike is just under 10 hours up to the top and back down to Kibo, and the hand warmers lasted for 12 hours, so one for each hand. Perfect! The goal was to get to the summit before sunrise and then straight back to Kibo to rest for a bit before continuing to Horombo. So all you needed to take with you was what you needed for the next 7 to 10 hours.

At midnight I was ready to go. I had my hiking poles in hand and candy in my pocket when my body took a turn for the worse. All I can think is the altitude finally caught up with me and my body wasn’t ready for the intensity I was about to put it through. Erik and I sent Buddy and Marc ahead and told them we’d catch up. I thought all I needed was a few minutes rest and we’d be right behind them. But through the next four hours Erik took care of my failing body and comforted me through the disappointing reality that I wasn’t going to summit this time around. It was hard for me to accept that not only had lost my day to see the top of Africa, I had taken Erik’s as well. He took this moment with such grace and helped me realize that we were there, on the top, and that this African mountain would still be here for years to come.

Buddy and Marc returned just after sunrise. Marc had made it to Gillman’s Point, a significant accomplishment. Gillman’s Point is about an hour and a half below the peak. Buddy made it to Uhuru, which is the highest point on Kilimanjaro (and on the African continent). We all packed our things and began the descent to Horombo. Our last night at camp, and on the mountain, was spent playing scrabble in our hut and resting up for the final descent.

As I walked away from Kili, I realized that throughout my travels I’ve taken the opportunity to check those places off my list. This time I am not done. Africa and Mt. Kilimanjaro, will never be checked off my list. I will go back, I will summit and then I will see more of that beautiful country and hopefully I will return again and again. Time will tell, but I’m not done yet.

Having spent the first part of our trip on the mountain made enjoying the safari and Zanzibar so much easier. We headed for Lake Manyara and Ngorongoro Crater the morning after we returned from our trek up Kilimanjaro. During my intense training for the trip I forgot to train the downhill muscles and was incredibly sore the next three days of our trip. Downhill is so easy and so fast, and yet I had such a long recovery. It was good to spend our days watching the animals from the safety of our comfortable vehicle. I enjoyed staying still for a bit.

The animals on our safari included African Elephants, baboons, giraffe, hippos, wildebeest, wart hogs, storks, zebra, impala, water buffalo, lion and ostrich to name a few. The air was dry, the sun hot, and the animals accustomed to the sound of the cars and the click of my camera. I’d have to say the most amazing thing we saw was the birth of a wildebeest, and the most dangerous thing we did was drive out of the Ngorongoro Crater. I think I held my breath the entire thirty minutes from the basin to the crater’s rim.

Despite the awesome beauty of the African plains and the effort we put into taking in every sight and moment, we were so excited to put our feet up and relax on Zanzibar. It was an hour flight to the spice island in the Indian Ocean. The ride to our bungalow awaited us at the airport and swept us away, to our heaven. White sandy beaches, comfortable beds, new and interesting foods, clear waters, it was just as I had imagined in my dreams.

Now its time for me to dream up a new dream and escape to my memories whenever I can. I’ve come to terms with my initial disappointment and am glad things turned out the way they did. I am thankful for the people who opened their hearts to us during our visit. Often I find my mind wandering back to that baby African Elephant who quietly joined us by a stream near Lake Manyara. It reminds me to continue dreaming and make sure those dreams come true. It’s a never-ending circle, this circle of life, and that’s the best part.

Blair – Greenville Shop Staff