Wednesday, February 11, 2009

On Safari...

After a day of recuperation at the Marangu Hotel, we were ready for our next adventure – safari in the Serengeti & Ngorongoro Crater.
6:30am saw us ‘wide-eyed’, but not very ‘bushy-tailed’, sitting on piles of luggage, waiting for the pick-up vehicle from 'Bush Explorers' the safari tour-operator we had selected. And so came the first entry on a long list of disappointments that continued till the very end of the safari. 6:45, 7am, 7:15 and still no show. A call to the company had at least assured us that our deposit hadn’t disappeared into the ‘ether’, but “soon come” was small recompense for unnecessarily lost sleep. At 7:30am an aging green Toyota van creaked into the hotel courtyard, and after many assurances that this wasn’t the safari vehicle, just transport to the vehicle, we climbed in and set off.

Lunch at the 'Vehicle Exchange'.

After about 4 hours of driving, we pulled into a campsite close to Lake Manyara. This was to be the lunch stop, and vehicle exchange, however it transpired that the cook was IN the vehicle we were supposed to be meeting, and when, half an hour later it showed up, loaded with 5 returning tourists, we realised that this particular ‘flight crew’ was going to be pulling a double shift!
With lunch over, and the jeep packed we were asked to make full payment for the safari before leaving. This was unexpected, and since our confidence level was at an all-time low we were hesitant to comply. This resulted in a heated discussion that went around in circles and could have lasted longer than the safari itself, however we asked the returning tourists about their experience. They were generally positive, and this gave us enough confidence for us to ‘throw caution to the wind’. We counted out the remaining balance, got an official looking receipt (and almost asked for finger prints...) and then departed.

Ellen & Susan in the Jeep.

5 hours later we entered the Serengeti National park. (4 hours of driving plus 1 hour for the driver to settle the park bill from the previous safari!) The plains stretched out to the horizon in all directions, an endless sea of brown grass with the merest hint of green. The idea that this could support life was incredible, however as we drove further in to the park, we passed herd after herd of small black-streaked Thompson Gazelles, interspersed with almost theatrically grotesque Wart Hogs.
As the evening shadows grew longer we had one of the most magical and defining moments of the safari. Three cheetahs were lying next to the ‘road’ (translated: graded gravel track.) They lay on a slight mound, looking out at the Thompson Gazelles in the distance, hardly glancing at us as we clicked & gasped in equal proportions.

Cheetahs on the mound.

Suddenly one of them tensed; sat up, then in unison they all sprang up and glided off through the grass, with an effortless mile-eating lope. Whatever prey they had spotted was certainly indistinguishable to us and before long both cheetahs and gazelles were mere specks in a shifting savanna sea.

Cheetah spies it's prey.

Still glowing from this spectacular encounter, we carried on, only to stop a short while later at another amazing sight. A pride of lions were guarding a partially eaten water buffalo.

Hyenas paced nearby – close enough to smell the kill, yet far enough to stay out of harm's way.

Vultures kept vigil in a nearby tree.

With the setting sun providing a spectacular backdrop, we arrived at our camp site. We pitched our tents, ate supper and took a somewhat nervous sojourn to the bathroom (very cognoscente of the fact that there was no barrier between us and the ‘slavering beasts of Africa’!) Sleep came rapidly, punctuated only by the occasional grunts & howls which sounded much nearer & more menacing than they really were.

Next morning we ate breakfast in our ‘dining cage’ – the wire mesh ostensibly there to keep the wild animals away from our scrambled eggs – however the image of ‘feeding time in the hamster cage’ was not lost on us!

The plan for ‘Day-2’ was an all-day game drive. Victor had prepared boxed lunches for us and shortly before 9am we were off.

A pair of majestic giraffe provided us with our first photo op. They move with utter grace, which belies their awkward form.

Then came another magical moment of the safari. A female leopard and her cub were walking close to the edge of the track.

We followed them for at least half an hour, watching their interactions. At one point they walked right past the jeep, brushing the wheels, so we looked straight down on their backs.

With the smallest of reaches, we could have stroked them (and no doubt lost our hands!)

Although it’s hard to imagine that any sighting could be significant after such a display, in fact everything we saw added to the intricate mosaic of the Serengeti.

From the comical wart-hog,

to soaring cranes,

prides of lion,

to dazzling starlings, each had their part to play.

In their incessant search for greener pastures, the wildebeest and zebras slowly migrate in a circular path around the 15,000 square Kms that make up the Serengeti. We watched countless thousands as young & old, they moved slowly across the landscape – as unstoppable as the tide.

Another unstoppable force on the Serengeti is the elephant. We pulled over at the sight of an approaching heard, revelling in the grace and gentle beauty of these giants.

They stopped a mere 30 meters away, shifting from foot to foot, waving their fan-like ears and ripping up the occasional trunk-full of grass. It seems they were waiting for us to move, because we were parked in their (unmarked) path, and although there was flat ground around us (all the way to the horizon,) Africa is theirs.

We backed up and moments later the herd moved on, from ancient matriarch to tiny calves, a grey, mud encrusted sea of gentle power.

One of the joys of being on safari at this time of year is the incredible number of young we saw. Every species seemed to have birthed within the previous few weeks and in the case of one hippo, we are convinced that we witnessed the actual birth!

From amazing sights to amazing coincidences... as we were driving along, a vehicle passed us, and Susan suddenly shouted out, “MARY!” She had seen (and more incredibly, recognized!) our friends from Kilimanjaro. We called out “simama”( which means Stop!) to Chas, and both jeeps slid to a halt and backed up. In all of the Serengeti, we just happened to be on the same track as Mary, Shabeena & John, and it turned out that they too were heading for the Ngorongoro Crater the following day.

'Day-2’ came to a close under another gorgeous setting sun and we returned to the camp site for supper and a welcome sleep.

The plan for ‘Day-3’ was a morning game drive, followed by lunch at the camp site. We would then pack the vehicle and head off to the Ngorongoro Crater. So after breakfast we set out, however before hunting for game, we had to hunt for water, because it seemed that Robb, the owner of the tour company had neglected to purchase enough water for us (even though our contract said we should have 3L each per day!) 1L for 4 people in the African sun was just not enough, so we went to a local ‘watering hole’ (bar!) and bought up all their water.

After the water excursion, Chas (the driver) took us to a couple of Hippo-hangouts. One of which featured dead hippos and komodo dragons and a stench that was beyond belief!

Leaving the hippos to their ‘various & varied’ activities we returned to camp for lunch.

The drive to the Ngorongoro took about 4 hours and although we took several side-tracks looking for game, we were unsuccessful. We needn’t have worried though, because the wild-life was waiting for us at the Ngorongoro camp site!

Shortly after we arrived, there was a commotion in the jungle behind the cook house. Two bull elephants were fighting (in a slow-motion sort of way!) Of course I was right in there with my camera, so much so that a guide yelled out to me to get out of there, because if they should change their interest to me, there was no way I could out-run them!

The vanquished bull ambled off into the jungle and the victor then turned to the camp and started walking straight towards us!

This obviously caused a little excitement among the on-lookers... and a little trepidation in Sarah, because at that precise moment, her other SideStix broke in exactly the same place as the one on the mountain!

It soon became clear that this ‘rampaging bull’ was in fact just on a daily pilgrimage to its watering hole – which happened to be the cook-house water-storage tank!

As we didn’t have enough clamps to make another crutch repair, I became Sarah’s ‘right-hand-man’ for the rest of the Safari.

We settled down for the night in our little dome tents, very conscious of the fact that there was at least one elephant out there who felt very ‘at home’ in this particular campsite!

At around 2am I was awoken by a snuffling, scrabbling noise, and the tent was shaking slightly. Switching on my head-light, I saw Sarah’s SideStix (the good one!) disappearing under the flysheet. Lunging forward, I grabbed it and jerked it backwards & forwards – in an attempt to scare off the perpetrator (which I assumed was a monkey.) The commotion awoke Sarah, and as I described the foiled heist, I unzipped the top of the fly sheet, and peaked out – to see 2 hyenas disappearing into the shadows behind the adjacent tree! I have no idea what they would have done with a prototype sports crutch, however it seems that scavenging in the hyena world is not limited to edible matter.

A further pre-dawn interruption, involving heavy breathing, snorting and strange ripping sounds transpired, (upon peaking out of the tent top-vent) to be the massive horned head of a Cape Buffalo, daintily ‘mowing’ the grass between our guy-ropes.

‘Day – 4’. The Ngorongoro game drive was only going to be a half day as there would still be a 4 hour drive to get back to Moshi. Our safari contract had indicated that we would eat a boxed lunch in the crater, thereby maximizing our time with the game, however there wasn’t suitable food left for this (another organizational ‘strike’ against the Bush Explorer outfit) so we would have to return to the campsite by noon, for a hot lunch and a speedy departure.

The crater is about 600m deep and covers an area of 260 Sq.Km. It contains an estimated 25,000 animals which live in the varied terrain, comprising highlands, bushlands and grasslands.

There was also a lot of dust!

We saw lioness & cub in a strange and yet very deliberate dance with a male lion.

The mother & cub kept about 400m distance away from the male. When she stopped, he stopped. When she moved, he moved.

Our driver indicated that he thought the male lion was on watch, however it seemed more that the lioness was protecting her cub from the adult male!
There were Cape Buffalo with young, (this one looked familiar... from the night before!)

Also Wart hogs with babies.

After a brief stop at a hippo pool, where we saw a hippo out of the water (not a common sight)

We started heading back towards the crater rim. It was then that we saw a conglomeration of jeeps ahead. We pulled up and sure enough in the faaaar distance a pair of Rhinos could be seen. This was the last of the so-called ‘Big Five’. (Elephant, Lion, Leopard, Buffalo and Rhinoceros – listed by big game hunters, because they were the most difficult game to hunt on foot.)

So, with that last ‘cherry on the cake’ we drove up the steep single-track road up the crater rim and back to the camp site.

At camp we were greeted by a rainstorm...

and lunch.

We had made arrangements with the Moshi Orthopaedic Centre to purchase a pair of replacement crutches, and since we had given our expected arrival time, we packed up and set off as quickly as we could.

The drive back was ‘interesting’, involving more close calls (for us and pedestrians) than one would usually expect in a lifetime! Running out of gas and waiting for an hour while Chas went off in search of fuel just added to our exasperation and when we finally arrived at our hotel in Moshi we were glad that this particular adventure had ended!

Our final summation of the safari: The animals we saw were incredible and Chas, the driver, notwithstanding his limited English, had a great knack for finding them. Victor, the cook, produced some very tasty meals. He was no doubt limited by the provisions he had been supplied. Robb, the company owner, ‘talked the talk’ but didn’t ‘walk the walk’. He said all the right things, and ‘promised the earth’ however his delivery was well short of the mark.


Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Posting comments should now be easier!

We've taken off the 'registration thingy' so posting comments should be much easier.
Many people said that they tried, but couldn't post comments.

Susan's Account:

I would like to add my personal account of our climb up Mt. Kilimanjaro. I tried to blog earlier but being a "non techie" I was unable to get on. Kerith is helping now.

I think our trip was amazing and I feel very blessed to have been part of Team SideStix. I read extensively on Mt Kilimanjaro and talked to veterans of the climb and truly believed acclimatizing to high altitude was very random and the only thing I could control was how fast (or slow) I climbed, how much fluid I drank (over 5 litres a day) and the ability to speed up the acclimatization process via pharmacology (Diamox and Decadron) recommended by the International Mountain Medicine Society.

I was extremely lucky as I did not have any symptoms of altitude sickness (headache, vomiting and diarrhoea) and never felt severely short of breath. Ellen and I worked hard to prepare for the climb. We went to the gym and trained but most of all we hiked every available weekend from August on. We hiked 6-8 hours a day mostly in the Blue Hills of Milton and this proved to be perfect training as the trek up Kilimanjaro is not really steep except for the midnight summit assault.

I would like to say this trip changed my life but it really didn't. What is did was enrich it and help me get back to realizing who I am. It's funny but when you are "plucked" out of your world; away from routines, work, family and comforts; and into a new culture you can really experience the moment and how you feel in it. I truly felt like a kid again. I was outside all day, dirty and silly and playing with my twin sister and friends; something I had not done in over 30 years. I felt really, really grateful to have this opportunity to feel so alive! The accommodations were very basic but I felt very comfortable and cared for. We were given warm water to wash each morning along with hot tea in our hut. We were called to our meals and served with the greatest care and respect. We were watched over and cared for by our guides especially when we felt sick. We were so active we were tired going to bed and fell asleep at 8pm.
I slept with ease. No chatter on my mind. My fingernails grew.

Walking for 6 days gives you a lot of time to reflect. I thought about this "pole - pole" concept or "slow - slow" and came to realize that when you take your time, not only can you enjoy the scenery, but you usually reach your goal in better shape. I learned to be more patient. We saw many casualties of altitude sickness on the mountain and most of these people had raced by us earlier in the day. I also thought about my dad and how he can swim for 2 hrs (with severe heart failure) because he goes slow. The same principle I use with my patients at work. If you move them slower they tire less and their oxygen levels stay steady. The pace of "tic-tock" was taken and although I brought up the rear I never had to stop.

We had lots of laughs and felt a little "fuzzy brained" at Kibo camp (>15000 ft). We were all nervous but excited. Sarah and Sosta left before Kerith could take pictures. We climbed steady and strong. Disbelief was the feeling I had when Sarah stopped and said her SideStix broke. I was looking at it but couldn't believe it. I was speechless. I had worried that altitude sickness may get to her as she could not take Diamox (allergic to sulpha drugs) but it was a mechanical problem. She broke down and cried "my ‘leg’ is broken". Kerith always believed he could fix it. I wasn't sure but felt that if anyone could do it, it would be him. His fierce loyalty to Sarah and SideStix gave him a super human boost of energy and he bolted down the mountain to repair it.

Ellen and I continued; sad but more determined than ever to make it. I think it took close to 7 hrs to reach Gilman’s point (top of the crater)and there were times it seemed like the climb would never end. Living in the moment and just putting one foot in front of the other became automatic. Once we reached Gilman's we never doubted we would summit at Uhuru. The 2 hr climb was very cold and windy. It reminded me of skiing on Mt. Cannon, NH on a sub zero windy day. The sun was up and the views were spectacular so it seemed wonderful. I kept wiggling my fingers and toes to stay warm. The summit brought Ellen and I real hugs of joy and accomplishment. We did it!

The most emotional moment of the climb was when we met Kerith on his way to the summit and he told us Sarah was around the corner at Gilman's pt. I felt more joy that when I actually summitted. I couldn't believe it as the climb up the soft scree is so difficult. Anyone who has climbed Kilimanjaro realizes this. The walk around the crater rim to Uhuru is cold and windy but the difficulty lies in climbing to Gilman's. When I saw Sarah I felt so proud of her and our team. Ellen took a photo of Sarah and I embracing and this is truly the climax of my climb. Pure Joy!

Climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro helped me redefine myself. I did it and feel that I can do other things I didn't think I could do. I feel braver, more self assured and confident. Like when I was a kid; learning how to shuffle cards, whistle with two fingers and ride a two wheel bike. A happy go lucky kid!

Monday, February 2, 2009

Sarah's Account of the Summit Night

I feel double my age as I lay here careful not to exert any energy while staring out of my bedroom window at the carefully manicured English gardens that surround the Marangu Hotel. I am convalescing from my climb up Kilimanjaro. Less than 24 hours ago we returned from our expedition, celebrating our success with two rounds of beers with the guides and porters. We also received our ‘Certificates of Achievement’ and enjoyed the “Mt. Kilimanjaro Song”, marking the success of our summit attempt. I must have been propelled by adrenalin to have the energy to engage in such festivities. Right now, I feel sucked to the bed’s mattress holding enough edema within me that one could mistake my body for having birthed a baby and not climbed a mountain.
Climbing Kilimanjaro was not what I expected. I had primed myself for the walk up a variety of terrains (rain forest, heath, moorland, alpine desert and summit), and knew we needed to walk slowly. But, our “pole pole” pace was truly a slow heel to toe march. Ellen made the metaphor, “the pace of a patient right after major surgery, towing his/her I.V. pole down the hospital corridors”.
Right from the start of the climb, I felt at home on this expedition. Although it had been 25 years since I had done any type of high altitude climbing, it felt comfortable to return to such an intense-focus, single-task activity. Climbing has always given me the ability to free my mind of the internal and external busyness of everyday life.
Thinking back to yesterday afternoon, I had felt a bit jealous of my team mates. Susan, Ellen and Kerith had all made it to Uhuru peak (the ‘official’ summit) and received a colorful certificate to mark the occasion. My green and black, somewhat bland certificate, indicated I had made it to Gilman’s Point – on the crater’s edge (this was considered the summit in bygone days). But, Gilman’s is 600 (vertical) feet short of the highest point on the rim. Sure, I felt tired when I got to this Gilman’s, but still thought I could muster up some energy to go to the “summit”…with encouragement. However I was told after 9 a.m. no climber is allowed to proceed past Gilman’s due to safety reasons. Kilimanjaro’s weather often changes for the worse around 10:00 a.m., something we had all witnessed since arriving in Moshi, a small town, 45 minutes from the base of Kibo. Most days the mountain seemed to drape itself in clouds from mid morning till early evening. Because of this, I knew I would have to be satisfied with my accomplishment to this point.
Today, that thinking seems so petty and I am overwhelmed emotionally as to how lucky I was that summit day. Kerith and Sosta (my guide) enabled me to go on after my left crutch broke at 16,000 ft, just one and a half hours into the climb. Their know-how, brute strength and encouragement allowed me to continue up the mountain against all odds and still manage to reach the rim of the crater.
[Kerith just arrived in the bedroom to check on me. Of course I started to cry in gratitude for his love and support. He is not sure what to do. I am not only looking like a puffer fish in full volume, but I’m an emotional train wreck! This is going to be a long day of sorting things out both physically and emotionally. Kerith gives me a hug and I continue to write on.]
To say I was shocked when my crutch broke is an understatement. I immediately felt defeated and started to quietly cry, while saying goodbye to my teammates. Catastrophic equipment failure had never factored into the equation of the summit bid. Whether over-confident, or over-sight, we did not take a spare set crutches with us (against my 85 year old father’s good advice!) and although we had spare parts with us, and even a repair kit for the eventuality of a broken crutch, repair on the mountain was not an option.
(Should I have been surprised? Equipment failure had happen to me on Mt. McKinley. I didn’t have time to stress test proto-type 2 and the polypropylene basket shattered in the extreme cold conditions on Denali. We were already above 14,000 feet and the slopes were windswept, so the loss of baskets didn’t pose any real problem up to the summit of McKinley. The problems arose when we started to climb down in soft snow!)
I started to really test SideStix in mid December. The SideStix were being submitted for Patent, and we were advised not to bring them into the public domain prior to filing. Although we hiked extensively in the mountains around the Sunshine Coast, two weeks was not long enough to reveal the hidden weakness.
The break on the SideStix was at the forearm tube just above the handle. We used high grade 6061 aluminum tubing (good enough for aircraft and high-end mountain bikes) however it appears that the fabrication process caused the forearm tube to be weakened. It cracked and then snapped immediately above the welded handle-tube which indicates that stresses introduced into the aluminum from the welding (or bending) were not adequately annealed. As if to corroborate this, the second SideStix broke in exactly the same place, five days later, while on safari in the Ngorongoro crater.)
To say that SideStix failed is inaccurate. The crutch forearm handle did break, but the purpose of testing a prototype is to reveal strengths and weaknesses. This test revealed a weakness in one of the components, and showed enormous strengths in the shock absorbing system and changeable feet, which gave me the cushion and purchase to get up the mountain efficiently without joint pain and blisters.
It was 1:30 a.m. and we were all standing on the slopes wondering what to do with my situation. Kerith, who had been studying the break said, “I think I can fix this.” I must say, I didn’t initially hear him and then when I did, I didn’t believe him. But, he took the broken crutch, leaving at a run with Octavian, his guide (to my great surprise at this altitude.) Sosta and I sat at a nearby rock to wait. The signal we arranged was a flashing light by the Kibo hut. This would indicate that the SideStix was beyond repair and we would need to proceed downhill, back to camp.
I said goodbye to Ellen and Susan without regret. We had made a pact with each other; if one could not continue on, the others would proceed up the mountain with their guides - without guilt. I did however have a heavy heart. How I wanted to continue on, but couldn’t.
Now feeling devastated, I sat next to Sosta on the rock, with a faint hope that Kerith would pull through and all would be well. Sosta poured me a cup of tea and sat with me in silence. He knew enough English to comfort me, but he chose instead to just pat my arm and look out to Mawenzi (Kibo’s brother). Sometimes no words are the best words and this was one of those situations. The silence felt strangely right, but unfamiliar to me. I’m a talker and process just about everything out loud. The night was calm, but cold. It was beautiful to look down in the moonlight and faintly see how far we had come from the desert saddle (about 10 kilometers away). We were almost above the clouds and the beauty, tea and silence calmed me.
Sosta is a quiet man. Susan described him as the “Zen” of guides. His wisdom seems to create an aura around him. He has been working on the mountain since he was 9 years old and is now 43. He cannot count how many times he has summitted this mountain (I don’t think this matters to him), but is clear he is familiar with every route, in all kinds of conditions. I asked him what it’s like to have this new ‘condition’, an amputee making a summit bid on one crutch. He just smiled and said, “We will continue”. What the heck did that mean! Continue down or up? I took a deep breath and begin to talk non-stop; my way of processing a dilemma (poor Sosta!). I said, “I feel so good, no head ache, no stomach ache, lots of energy. I want to continue up, I feel so good”……just repeating myself.
Finally, after 5 minutes, I said something different, “I’m feeling cold”. Sosta looked at me and immediately stood up. He braced his right forearm and said, “We will continue”. “I must go up” I said, if only to reach Hans Meyer’s cave. Certainly that would bring us above the clouds and Mawenzi, and give me the joy of a well-earned view. Sosta seemed to be OK with the direction. As long as I was feeling well, his job was to get me to the summit and this was also a logical way to stay warm…to hop.
Hopping up the slope in high altitude was the hardest physical thing I have ever done. Sosta may also agree, as he had to shake his arm out every 30 or so hops, due to cramps. But, I wasn’t going to complain. I felt lucky to have a new opportunity to continue on, no matter how dire. It’s funny, how your perspective changes with loss. I had always felt a bit like an under-dog climbing this mountain with two crutches and no Diamox. How I would give anything to have two good crutches right now!
It became clear to both Sosta and I that we would have to have a system to make headway hopping up the mountain. Every 3-4 hops I would stop and catch my breath. We smoothed out the rhythm of our walk together and made a pact. I would take 15 hops straight up the mountain and then traverse for 25 hops. This would certainly keep me warm and make the progress we needed to get to Hans Meyer Cave. Sosta knew how to count to 10 in English. So we counted in sets of 10. The headway we made was giving me hope. I was also feeling amazed at my body’s ability to go on in this fashion. I’m usually fairly optimistic about what my body can do, but hoping up a mountain was impressive to me as well. I don’t know what it is in a human (because I know I’m not unique in this manner), but somehow you find a reserve deep inside and it seems to recreate new boundaries of what you thought you were capable of doing. Kerith says, it’s my stubbornness and determination combined, but this part of the climb felt different. It wasn’t cognitive. It was like a spirit had opened up a new channel within me and allowed me to tap into this new reserve I wasn’t aware that I had. It was fantastic feeling (perhaps I was experiencing an endorphin blizzard within), but my rational side, thought, “You are a crazy girl”.
My feelings towards Sosta can be summed up in one phrase, “deep respect”. He is wise, experienced and understands the language of this mountain better than most. He is aware of his strengths and appears humble enough to understand his weaknesses. I was lucky to be assigned the “head guide” for summit night. Now I could see what this man was made of and I was totally awed that he was enabling me to continue by using his right arm as a spare forearm crutch.
After more than two and a half hours hopping up Kibo, (covering 1000 vertical feet,) passing Hans Meyers cave (which Sosta pointed out after the fact), we could faintly see Kerith and Octavian making their way up the slope at impressive speed. When they got closer, I heard a faint call. Had Kerith fixed the crutch?
I’m not sure if I or Sosta was more relieved when we saw Kerith and Octavian up close on the slope. We had come to the end of our ability to make headway in the soft scree. The sun was just making its way above the horizon and warming the frozen scree to a quick-sand consistency. The timing was perfect because both Sosta and I needed a break from the physical exertion of hoping at this altitude. Sosta gave Kerith a firm embrace of relief and appreciation and officially named him “marathon man”. This nick name stuck with Kerith for the remainder of the climb, and was quite a compliment coming from an extremely fit African.
I started to cry in relief and excitement. My love had pulled it off. This man with incredible strength, determination and technological knowhow had enabled me to continue on by fixing the SideStix. I felt a deep sense of love for this remarkable person. I felt so lucky that Kerith and Sosta had turned a seemingly impossible situation around. I was going to make it to the summit. I now knew this, and the gift of this knowledge gave me all the energy I needed to negotiate the next set of difficulties on this slope.
For the next four hours we made our way slowly, one goal at a time, through scree and then over the rocks to Gilman’s Point. It was 9:30am and we had made it to 18,600ft above sea level. Kerith and I took some pictures and had tea with our guides.
Although I did not continue on, Kerith was able to convince Sosta that “marathon man” could race to Uhuru peak in good time, before the weather changed. I remained behind with Octavian. In less than 5 minutes after Kerith left, Susan and Ellen rounded the corner. They had just bumped into Kerith and the news of us summiting brought tears to their eyes. When I saw them, I just started crying. Now I don’t cry easily, but I think the altitude had something to do with my emotional state. We all hugged, took pictures and made our way down the mountain to the Kibo hut. What took 9 hours for me to climb up, took only 2 hours to climb down.
Perhaps feeling like I’ve just birthed a baby may be quite appropriate. As I lay here recovering, I already know that like having a baby, my life will never be the same. With time I will come to know the true impact this ‘baby’ will have on my life, both as a person and designer of SideStix.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Day AFTER The Longest Day...

Surprisingly enough, we all awoke early. It was Monday January 12th, the last day of the expedition. I had assumed we would all sleep like the dead, however our anticipation of returning to the 'real world' and also the gentle suggestions from the guides, that 8am would be a good time to start the (long) final day's hike, had us stirring at a pre-dawn 6am. With the traditional fare of fruit and (chocolate) porridge, eggs and bacon and copious quantities of Chai tea, consumed with our customary gusto, we set off on the first leg of our 27Km day. The plan was to hike down to the Mandara Camp and have a hot lunch (which the Marangu Hotel was going to send up.) After lunch and a short break we would hike out from Mandara, to the park gate.
We made good time - the memories of our accomplishments (and the down-hill grade...) giving lift to our weary feet. The changing vegetation afforded lots of new photo opportunities and less than 4 hours after leaving Horrombo, we crossed the bridge (literal - not figurative) that marks the start of the rainforest - just outside Mandara Camp.
As promised, the hot lunch was waiting for us in the dining cabin at Mandara, however, to be truthful, we did look with some envy at other groups that were tucking in to lunch-boxes whilst sitting in the cool grass under the shade of vine-encrusted trees.
Lunch over; descending the final portion of the Marangu Trail, we passed from one sunlight jewelled tunnel to another. Like rabbit holes through the dense vegetation, we were indeed returning from our own 'wonderland'.
Cheers and photos and hugs all around and there we were, through the gate and filling out forms and questionnaires, taking part in the 'administrative shuffle' that Tanzania takes so seriously. We all left comments requesting improved education for tourist and porter alike. Kilimanjaro, though vast, is fragile, and tens of thousands of litter-touting users are having a tremendous impact, which if not managed with ecology and sustainability in mind, will reduce this African Jewel to just another exhausted resource. “The highest free-standing rubbish pile in Africa” doesn't have quite the same allure!
The trip back to the Marangu hotel passed quickly, the cooling wind swirling around us in the back of the open truck, a welcome respite from the now unaccustomed heat.
We checked back in to the same rooms we had left a mere 6 days, but a seeming lifetime, before.
Alas, rest & relaxation were not the 'order of the day'. The most important part of the whole trip (for the porters & guides) was about to transpire. It was tip-time!
We all had speed-showers, to wash off the worst of the trail-dust, and then reconvened in the hotel grounds, 9 porters & guides and the 4 of us.
With a round of drinks in hand, the (surprisingly formal) ceremony began. Sosta and Simon filled out our names on our “diplomas” (certificates of achievement.) Sosta then gave a short speech, congratulating us and handed each of us our certificates.
It was my turn then, and I stood to give a very brief speech, conveying our heart-felt gratitude for their hard work and dedication which had enabled us to have an unforgettable experience.
Much more than words though, the tip speaks the language of gratitude, and we 'spoke well'. The smiles on their faces indicated clear comprehension in this language of currency and the closing song was delivered with great gusto.
And then they were gone, and the evening was ours. The stillness descended like a blanket and wrapped us in its quiet folds, while inside each of us the memories ebbed and flowed. The experience was over, but our understanding was only just beginning.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Repaired SideStix

Here's a picture of Sarah's SideStix. The repaired one is on the left.