Conquering Kilimanjaro – Africa Dreaming

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Dreams are a big deal when you’re a kid. Growing up in Tasmania I feel was a massive blessing.  Fresh air, loads of fresh produce, water from natural springs collected by my mother and the best part of all farmland to run around on like the crazy wild children that my brother and sisters were… and still are at heart. Tasmania is a very isolated part of the world, especially when there was no internet and I think only 4 channels on Television (not that we were allowed to watch it much).  This being said the rest of the world which I discovered mostly from books seemed like such a far away place that I only thought I would ever dream of being able to visit.

My very first dream was to go to Nepal and climb Mount Everest, this came from my Year 4 teacher Miss Davies who had visited Nepal many times and would speak about her adventures in class to us.  This is where she had my attention… I wanted to go to Nepal desperately.

Years and Years clearly go by growing up… that’s a whole other blog post… However, AFRICA… I would watch the world vision commercials on T.V, sounds odd, but all of the starving children, the cries for help and the tribal feel of Africa, would make me want to go there SO badly. 

I would often tell my children that I would love so much to go and live with a tribe and be completely off the grid and when I’m a grandmother that’s exactly where they’ll have to go looking for me 😉

Let me add… how many times I would tell my friends, who were at this stage travelling the world, going to uni and living” the dream”, while  24 year old me was surrounded by babies and toddlers, dirty nappies, bills, and completely sleep deprived, that.. “I would one day be travelling and they will be right where I was at that point in time.”

It took a LONG time, in February of 2015 my opportunity came.  Right at this point I had been only 3 Months separated from my husband of 16 years and the father of my 4 children.  It was my first time travelling overseas without my children and one of the few times away from them.

I decided 6 months prior to climb Kilimanjaro for myself, and to raise money for Amnesty International to fight for human rights (you don’t even want to get me started on Human Rights… I could write a novel on how I feel about this). I booked the whole thing and then started my research.  I’m impulsive, when you have 4 children at 24 there is no denying it.

Kilimanjaro is one of the highest mountains in the world with an elevation of 5895 metres.  This is extremely high, with very thin air at the top and a very steep incline.  In fact so steep you need to walk in a zig zag pattern to make the summit.

On the first day we landed in Arusha in Tanzania.  This was everything I had ever imagined and exactly what I thought it would be like.  Hot, dry, busy and people everywhere.  Driving along the road there were small children with donkeys to carry their items for selling, ladies dressed in traditional clothing carrying baskets on their heads, looking elegant and beautiful.  THE MOST AMAZING SMILES I have ever witnessed in my life (besides my four boys). But.. these smiles come from such a pure, real place because these people who we in the western world think have nothing… Are so grateful for what life gives them every day, food, water and shelter nothing more.

The second day we make our way to the mountain.  Backpacks are ready and we load up on the bus with our awesome porters and the team.  The team consisted of 11 Australians, a mix of ages and backgrounds but all with the same purpose and all had fundraised for human rights so everyone were very like minded.  They are still my friends to this day.

At the bottom of Kilimanjaro it has a tropical steamy feel to it. It is surrounded by farmlands with rich soil, dense forest and the cutest children who chase after you asking for “Chocolate! Chocolate!” knowing that our pockets and bags are stuffed with chocolate as a quick energy supply for the big climb ahead of us…. So we part with quite a lot of sweets, leaving very happy, giggly little kids behind us.

The climb up until base camp js long and slow but never boring.  We are constantly told by our guides and porters “Pole, Pole” which means “Slowly, slowly”.  They gave us an example of how slow we had to walk at the base of the mountain and I couldn’t believe it at the time. It was literally picking one foot up to take a step and a half second later put it down and so on and so on. 

When we tried to pick up the pace they would make us stop, turn and get back behind the lead porter.. saying you “You walk fast, you die!” Well, that makes anyone walk a little slower.

The climb to base camp consisted of sparse rocky landscape as we ascended above the cloud line with views stretching across the Serengeti, over the borders of Kenya and Tanzania.  The porters and guides were some of the most beautiful humans I have ever met.  Always checking of we are ok. If you ask them if they are ok back they would simply say “Your happiness is my happiness!”  Seriously, heart melts on the spot.

I celebrated my birthday on the mountain and it is one of the best days of my life.  The porters made me a cake and 35 strong african men sang Happy Birthday to me 3 different versions.  Then we cut the cake into about 40 pieces and shared it amongst everyone.  It was a BIG cake and they are so thoughtful and clever to be able to make it in such primitive conditions… AMAZING

We eventually make it to base camp and by this stage a few of the climbers are experiencing the effects of altitude sickness, with one climber being made to descend and not go any further.  The conditions go from being hot to snowing within hours and we rest up ready to attempt the summit at 11pm that night.

Summit night is a big deal… It is full of anticipation of what’s to come and excitement. It is cold, dark and we are ready with backpacks and headlamps.  We summit the mountain slowly.  Ahead of us you can see bouncing lights in the distance from the headlamps of the other teams.  They seem so far into the distance. 

The only thing you can see at this stage is the feet of the person in front of you that we are instructed not to pass.  The guides put the weaker climbers in the middle so no one gets left behind.  Small people up the front.. That was me 😉

We trekked through the night and slowly some of our team members had to make their way back down the mountain as altitude sickness had started to wreak havoc on them. It was minus 27 degrees with very windy conditions.  Some climbers start to suffer from frost bite on their hands and toes. I was miraculously ok.

We reached the summit as the sun was coming up the next morning.  It was perfection.  The sun shone off the ice fields and glaciers at the top of Kili.  I felt like I could achieve anything in life at this stage and I was so proud of myself and my new friends.

I wanted to stay as long as possible at the top but the guides were ushering us down urgently as two climbers in our group had altitude sickness badly and didn’t even know their own names.  The descent is quick.  You are almost sliding the whole way down as it is so steep and the rocks beneath your feet are loose.

Back at base camp we all rest and share our own experience of the climb.  I didn’t want to leave Africa.  I would have sent for my boys and quite happily stayed in a tent surrounded by nothing but nature and the simplicity of living each day with the basic needs a person requires to live.   By far one of the best experiences of my life. 

Always hang onto your dreams.

mount Kilimanjaro



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