With my Kilimanjaro summit dream dead and gone (for this trip at least) I was brought back to Moshi in a ramshackle, bouncy 4×4 truck, driven by a park ranger obsessed with two mobile phones. On the plus side we encountered a troop of baboons hurtling along the road ahead of the truck before they bounded into the jungle.
I learned that Tanzania drivers are hybrids – acting as postmen, bus and messenger service.
Mr Ranger spent a lot of time picking up stuff – boxes of banana’s and eggs, TV’s, people, all of which were crammed into the back of the flatbed part of the truck. It was 9 pm by the time we reached Moshi.
Fun Times at Hospital.
The private hospital was shut so I was escorted to a public hospital. I paid some money at reception, handed over my passport for ID and listened as Suley translated for me. The hospital was dark and dingy. Corridors, sans walls, allowed for a courtyard view of lush jungle.
Yep. Jungle in the middle of a hospital.
I was surprised too.
No windows or anything. Just sections of missing wall and thick foliage.
A dozen people sat in a cramped waiting room. I was embarrassed to be prodded to the front of the queue. I waited in a tiny antechamber for the doc to call me in.
Mommy! Look! A White Man!
It was at this time that a genuine smile graced my face for the fist time that day. I was joined by a mother and son. The kid was about 3 or 4 and after exchanging brief smiles I studied my phone for messages from my contact at 360 Expeditions.
The feeling of being watched crept over me. Glancing down I found the kid staring at me. I gave him a wink and went back to my phone.
Half a minute later his eyes were still fixed on me.
His mother offered an apologetic smile and angled his head away. I waited, sensing the kid would look again. Sure enough his eyes swiveled a moment before his head and his scrutiny of me began once more.
Another smile, slight grimace that time, as if she was annoyed and embarrassed at her son’s actions at the same time. I smiled back and waited. Aaaaand again, eyes and then head. The kid couldn’t stop staring at me, and I had no clue why.
After the 4th or 5th time it hit me. The kid was captivated at being up close with a white man. His eyes moved to take in my face, my arms, hands, every inch of me was something new and wonderous. I couldn’t help but smile at the kid’s innocent and unashamed fascination.
I held out my hand so he could see better.
With a slight glance at his mum, who gave him a resigned smile of agreement, he lifted his arm and compared it to mine. My skin is a few shades darker than Snow White’s. However, compared to the kid’s it looked almost luminescent. Once or twice we made eye contact, where I raised my eyebrows and smiled. The kid smiled back and continued with his study.
Though far from satisfied with the experiment, the kid had his arm lowered by mum and I was called to see the doc.
The guy was amazing. A bit grizzled and weary of face, but a good doctor. He checked me over, made some notes and told me to get rest, take pain killers, and drink a crap load of water.
Sippy Sippy. Pole-pole.
Side story: Several times during my hospital visit the power went out. All lights vanished. And when I looked out of the window I saw it was the entire town, leaving car headlights cruising along dark streets. No one seemed alarmed or concerned.
Later, Mussa explained that Moshi has frequent power outages and some places have backup generators, my hotel included. Made me thankful for our National Grid.
Sal salinero Hotel, again.
Back. Room. Shower. Meds. Water. Sleep.
I slept for a long time.
Next morning I still felt sick, with that jelly concrete sensation. I tried breakfast and managed some delightful scrambled egg and very tasty mini beef samosas from the buffet. Waiting staff were always smiling, helpful and happy to explain the food on offer, followed by a gracious karibu.
Being grateful my reply was santa sana. And for the hospitality alone, I was very thankful.
Time for some gratuitous photos of lushness.
That was the view from my breakfast table. Kinda tall trees, right?
And then we come to my mini hobby – Pool Watch.
Initially labelled as the Emerald Lake by my poetic mind, later swapped for Croc Swamp. I would have loved to dive and swim several times a day, but it was simply too green and I couldn’t see the bottom to be certain there was nothing big and toothy waiting to gnaw on me.
Regardless of the no swim option, it does look beautiful.
Okay, one more photo and then back to my story.
I don’t know what this spiky thing is but it looked cool so I snapped it.
Mussa and the Wait.
Our fundraising was organised through ZSEA – Zoological Society of East Anglia, who booked the Kilimanjaro trek through 360 Expeditions, who employ Pristine Trails in Moshi for their expertise in guides on Kili, porters, cooks and so on. Pristine also do safari tours. Good ones too.
So, Mussa, a top quality dude, at Pristine, said he’d show me around Moshi. I waited and lamented my bad luck. Sure, I felt sorry for myself. I’d missed out on a big deal. Sucks to be me, right? Boo-hoo. Self-pity gets old after a while.
I slouched around the hotel, a tiny bit annoyed Mussa hadn’t shown up or called.
Next day I had a message saying he’d come and we’d go out.
I was in contact with 360, my travel insurance company and family whom I informed of my health issues.
But no Mussa.
I was thinking of catching an early flight home. There seemed to be a battle of sorts, or perhaps miscommunication, between me and the travel insurance company. The longer they waited to reply to my claim and request for a flight home, the more it was costing to stay at the hotel.
So I was a little bummed out by then and fed up of walking the grounds, taking endless photos, reading, and waiting for something to happen. All the time wondering how the team were getting on up the mountain.
The bar staff were nice and cheery.
It’s funny how you sometimes miss details, isn’t it?
Only when stood on the path, lost in thought, did I notice how the bar was carved with an African theme.
Nice touch, right?
So, back to Mussa.
He arrived the next day and apologised for the wait. Hakuna Matata, matey. Turns out a Tanzanian “later” is a very long time. Longer than the relaxed Spanish “manana”.
My irritation dissolved when he explained how his truck had been broken into. Thieves stole his trek gear, one boot, a laptop, his insurance and medical paperwork, along with his ID card that showed Kili park gates he was a licenced guide.
I understand he had been a little stressed.
We were both puzzled why anyone would steal a laptop, and just the one boot.
Turns out there are assholes in Tanzania just like we get in England.
Mussa had to run some errands in order to be prepped to lead his own expedition up the mountain in 2 days time. We drive into Moshi where I learned that everyone knew Mussa. At every cafe and junction people waved and shouted greetings to him.
He explained he’d lead a pretty pronounced and energetic life in his younger days and was well-known. He said often people would start a conversation when he had no idea who they were. I suspect that he was a bit of a wild party boy. Also he used to be a race car driver. Not sure if sincere honesty or pulling my sausage. Either way he was very popular.
We ate lunch at the Union Cafe in Moshi.
Well, Mussa left me at a table outside for a while so he could run an errand.
So I sat there. Somewhat trepidatious. It was a strange but likeable town. Colourful. Noisy. Unfamiliar smells. And there was a soldier just outside the cafe with a really big gun. Though I didn’t dare try to openly take photos of him.
I concentrated on the model of the mountain.
The burger was very tasty. The bun, like a lot Moshi bread, was very sweet and doughy. I’m sure it was made from maize flour rather than wheat flour. Damn tasty all the same!
In The Sticks
Mussa said he had a bit of treat for me and we headed out of Moshi to the south of Kili.
I didn’t take many photos of Moshi town, but I caught this one on the drive out as it was really bright and colourful.
Before that we headed down a series of ragged roads away from the town centre. They became increasingly more ragged and bumpy as we went. Houses turned to unfinished shells of concrete block, and in turn they became wooden shacks.
When I thought it couldn’t get more rustic, the shacks grew more shacky, and young children, goats and chickens roamed free and barefoot. The children, not the goats or chickens. Though technically goats and chickens are barefoot all the time anyway.
We arrived at a big set of gates set in high thick walls topped with barbed wire. That last detail may have been my imagination taking once last stab at the fun side of life before the end came. The point is that despite feeling comfortable and safe in Mussa’s company, I suddenly questioned who he was.
I’d know him a total of…3 maybe 4 hours.
He worked for Pristine Trails.
But what else did he do?
Drug runner? Diamond smuggler? Organ harvester?
He’d summited Kilimanjaro many times, and stopped counting at the 250 mark.
“For a long time the mountain was my lady,” Mussa said at Union Cafe, a whimsical, faraway look in his eye.
Small comfort to someone who’s about to die.
Right then I saw a vivid possible future where I vanished. Never to be seen again. The international news would run every story imaginable. There’d be investigations, interviews, wild theories, international concerns and new policies governing tourist safety in Africa.
I knew my doom lay beyond those heavy-duty gates.
Turns out Mussa was just dropping off lunch for a pal.
Brown trousers avoided. We moved on.
Unlike the Londorosi park gate, which is accessible after driving through hot dusty desert for a few hours from Moshi, the route Mussa took me to was the Marangu gate, less than an hours drive away and through stunning scenery.
Marangu gate is south-east of the mountain. We drove through vast banana and coffee plantations. The air became cool and the roads narrowed as we wound up the side of the mountain.
One thing struck me a peculiar about the townships around Moshi, the type of shops, or rather the regular occurrence of the same type of shops gathered together.
- Drinks shop.
- Food shop.
- Barber shop.
- Gas shop.
- Bed/sofa shop.
- Coffin shop.
Yep. All in close proximity of one another.
Not only down below, but up high on the mountain you’ll likely find a small hut to buy a drink and some scoff, the neighbour offering you a haircut, and whilst you’re there you can pick up a sofa/bed and a quick coffin.
I took a lot of video on my phone, though I haven’t got around to processing any yet. I took a GoPro Hero 4 Silver with me. Didn’t use it. I found it too small, annoying, fiddly and oddly cumbersome considering its tiny size, likely due to the selfie-stick thing I’d attached it to.
Besides, my phone took better pictures and video.
It has prompted me to buy a proper camera well before my next adventure.
The GoPro is a great piece of tech, but it didn’t suit my purposes for that sort of trip.
I wondered if I should offer advice in these posts. Nope. There are plenty of sites offering all that stuff. But one tip I do have is long before you jet off, make sure you’re very comfortable with whatever photo/video device you plan on taking to capture your adventure.
I missed a trick by not finding the right bit of kit, and whilst my smart-phone photos are okay, kind of, they’re not as a good as I’d like.
The Marangu gate is an impressive site. When I asked Mussa why Londorosi looked like a shitty knocked together in one day type of place compared to the splendour of Marangu, he said it’s because Marangu was the first established gate to the park and as such had seen time and money spent making it look good.
Take a look at the sign of rules for climbing the mountain.
It’s a very beautiful place. Tranquil and cool.
I had the same light-headed, breathless feeling at Marangu as I’d had at Morum picnic place. Mussa told me to take my time and not to rush anywhere. Being in the car I hadn’t noticed the change in elevation.
Marangu gate is at 1,870 metres above sea level.
I bought some souvenirs from a tiny shack at the top on the right, just out of shot of the below photo.
That’s Mussa walking the steps to get a replacement guide/first aid certificate from the office on the left.
I didn’t reach Kibo summit with my team, but I did experience a different and unexpected side to Tanzania – untouristy Moshi, banana and coffee plantations, lush forests, lots of dusty roads, mini dust tornados, goats, sheep, cows and people, lots and lots of people.
And the cows. So many cows. We’d roll into a small township and the roads would be heaving with cows and goats. Noise and stink invading my brain. It was chaos, but spectacular and beautiful at the same time.
I was grateful to Mussa for asking me to accompany him. He didn’t have to do that, and aside from his kind nature (where he offered friendship to a fellow human) it was also an excellent example of good customer service. I’d say the best I’ve experienced.
Back in town Mussa was way more relaxed now he had his licence card again. We stopped by Pristine Trails office where I took a picture of their wall art. It’s pretty amazing.
Joel, on the right behind the desk, is also a genuinely nice guy. Very helpful and kind. Another shot of Mussa stood up.
I was privileged to listen to Mussa’s questionable taste in 80’s pop music too.
Home or Stay?
Back at the hotel, I had to make a choice – stay and wait for the team to return, but incur hotel costs, or fly home early?
The day after I was sat in my room, Expedia app open, waiting for the circle loading icon to stop spinning and confirm my return trip. The insurance company had taken too long in their reply, and had concluded it was now cheaper for me to stay at the hotel for the remainder of the stay than fly home.
However, on that particular day I’d had enough. I wanted to fly home, rest and figure out what I was going to tell people about my illness and not reaching the summit.
If the insurance paid for my hotel costs then I’d swallow the £450 return flight myself.
Whilst waiting for the spinning wheel I received a text.
For a moment I ignored the text.
I was thinking about the booking confirmation email, how I’d get to the airport, paying my hotel costs, leaving notes for the team, and so on.
I closed the app. I figured it needed to reload and then try the flight booking again.
The message was from 360.
Julie had been taken ill with a chest infection and was being evacuated off the mountain. She’d reached Karanga Camp after tackling the Barranco Wall, the very thing we had both been nervous about. That was it. I was staying. I made sure my flight transaction had been cancelled.
I knew Julie would be devastated and I wanted to make sure I was around if she needed to talk.
Jo had already spoken to us about donating kit we didn’t want/need after the trek, and not to give any direct to a specific person but rather we’d pool it together and it would handed out at a later stage.
I spoke to Mussa about this and the hardships some porters and guides face in trying to get work on the mountain. It can be a difficult place to find work, and keep regular work too, when you don’t have the right kit.
I had been prepared to donate at least something, but because of well I had been treated I donated a bunch of stuff direct to Mussa – my down jacket, water bladder, socks, water bottle, waterproof bags, gloves, a couple of tops and some toiletries.
The porters and guides do an amazing job and anything I could do to support them was worth it.
Taken from the Kili Porters Assistance Project website:
Those who have climbed Mount Kilimanjaro know that the porters are the heart and soul of your trek. Without their hard work and strength we would not be able to fully experience the magnificence of Kili. But the truth is porters are often impoverished Tanzanians who depend on this labor-intensive employment in order to feed themselves and their families.
I couldn’t agree more.
When Julie and I finally got together she explained how her breathing had been so bad, and the rattling nasty crap in her chest had not got any worse, even with antibiotics on the mountain. I sympathised big time. I was gutted she had missed out on the summit, yet glad she was safe.
She told me all about the Barranco Wall. It sounded both gritty/scary/hard and challenging/exciting and worth the effort. At least that’s what I think she meant! I shared stories of my adventures with Mussa in Moshi and Marangu.
And then we hit the bar!
Not for booze, that shit’s okay for a celebration, we went for the good stuff.
Stoney Tangawizi – subtle and sweet ginger beer – like bathing your tongue in beauty.
Kilimanjaro Water – sourced from melting glaciers – cold, pure and gorgeous!
Fanta Passion – it’s like having a tropical fruit party in your mouth.
We played Uno, ate dinner and chatted about life, the mountain, Tanzania and everything in between.
The chicken burger was surprising. It wasn’t a lump of reconstituted chicken paste fried from frozen, but actual chunks of chicken freshly made in the kitchen. An interesting and very tasty approach.
The next morning I managed to snap a lizard!
A Different Kind Of Trek.
So far the trip had been very mixed, in every sense of the word. I’d seen things I never dreamed I would. I experienced thoughts and feelings I seldom touched on. My senses had been treated to a rich and stunning menu of delights.
I was still saddened at failing to reach the summit, yet I was grateful for the surprising sequence of events that followed as a result of my evacuation.
It sure is funny how things turn out. I could say I had regrets, but because I can always return for that challenge my life is now enriched because I didn’t get there this time.
I hadn’t counted on arriving back in the UK with an unexpected and different set of memories. Life sure is strange. And awesome. I am indeed in awe of what life can offer up when you least expect it.
My story isn’t over quite yet. Julie and I had to wait another day for the rest of the team to arrive at Mweka Gate.
And that, dear blog reader, is a story for another time.
That’s me at my summit. Shira Camp 1. Kilimanjaro. Tanzania. That’s in Africa, a place I’d never planned to visit, not through any particular fear but because I was comfortable within my little bubble. I had my work, my writing, dogs, popping to the shops, mooching around Cambridge. Nice and simple and safe.
Like Sheldon Lee Cooper once said, “It’s called the Comfort Zone for a reason.”
I admit now that my life was kinda boring.
Albeit safe and predictable.
But yeah, soooo boring!
Returning to the familiar is a good thing – a chance to recharge and refresh with a view to facing the next chapter of life. Right now the familiar is a constant reminder that there’s more stuff for me to see out there in the big wide world. Talk about stuff. I knew there was a lot because the world is pretty big, but I never thought there was that much of it. Believe me, there’s stuff everywhere! And I now want to see it all.
I’m glad I went to Africa. If for nothing else it has served as a catalyst for a much-needed lifestyle change. It has opened my eyes to so many possibilities I never gave much thought to before. I am feeling a sense of loss with post-expedition blues, where adrenaline and excitement must give way to a slower more calculable pace. Which sucks because I want the adventure to continue.
But hey, let’s not dwell on that for now!
I have a story to tell.
Rather than throw every last word and photo at you in a seemingly endless and exhausting post (as is my usual style) I’ve decided to chop my adventure into a few parts.
I’m thinking: Africa Alive, Moshi Time and Safari.
All photos are large so you open them up big style. The majority were taken with my Galaxy S7.
Let’s roll back a little…
Shiny & New!
Left to right: Vicki, Julie, Jo, Pete, myself, Frankie, Valerie, David, Joel, Mike, Hannah, Chris and Hayley.
On 18th Jan 2017 we assembled at Norwich Airport at the ridiculous hour of 4.30am. Look how eager and fresh and tidy were all are!
I felt anxious. I hadn’t flown for over 20 years and the furthest I’d driven was 6 hours to Brecon Beacons in Wales last October. I was feeling a little out of my depth and had to remind myself I was actually there, that it was really happening.
Norwich Airport is dinky, but it’s clean and modern. Quick tip, when paying the £10 Airport Development Fee (aka Leaving The Country Tax) don’t waste an extra £3 on the Express Super Speedy security bit. There are 2 lines that go through security and the Express one meets with the normal one around the corner and the queues merge anyway!
Yeah, some of us were caught in the noob trap.
First flight to Amsterdam Schiphol Airport was about 50 minutes on a tiny Fokker 70. I remember those type from when I was a kid. I was looking forward to the big plane.
After a 2 hour wait we boarded a Boeing 777 200. A big chunky plane with seats everywhere!
Our expedition leader, Jo Bradshaw, missed the flight due to too much fog in London and had to meet us the following day. I watched the Ghostbusters remake, it was okay.
The food had improved somewhat in 20 years, so it was at least better than edible. Kinda.
KLM Airlines staff were polite and cheery.
I know this is all a bit photo heavy, a little like looking through a friend’s collection of holiday pics and wondering how long you’ll need to wear your “I’m sooooo interested” or “How amazing!” face for. But still, I managed to snap a cool photo of Austria through the window.
Seven of us lost our duffel bags between Amsterdam and Kilimanjaro Int. It was a huge pain the arse and something we didn’t need after a long flight. And even though I was tired and cranky I was intensely excited at being in a different country. The air was insanely hot and dry when we got off the plane and walked to the arrivals terminal, which was awesome!
There was a long queue for immigration where we got our visas – form filling, photos and fingerprints taken. We’re British. We know how to queue.
We finally met our local contact, Mussa, who was very patient whilst we filled in lost bag forms.
It wasn’t that much of a nightmare. You’ve got to be pragmatic these days and let things go with a “Meh.”
Sal Salinero Hotel
I find arriving at places at night a strange event as darkness masks the true nature of your new surroundings. I get two impressions, one in the dark, and in the dawn of the new day. I found myself comparing the two and reconciling the differences.
The hotel was a tropical island amid a sea of red dust and dirt.
It was lush and green, calm and relaxing. I couldn’t fault the level of customer service provided by the hotel staff – well dressed, helpful and always ready with a polite karibu.
The wi-fi was solid. I’m with EE and bought a few roaming data packages – 100MB for £40 that lasted 7 days.
My first day wasn’t great as I had a bad stomach upset and was off my food. Not sure if that was due to a virus, nerves or the heat. Either way I didn’t enjoy the breakfast, or lunch at a restaurant in Moshi, or the evening meal for that matter.
The food at Kaka’s was amazing! If you’re in Moshi I suggest a visit as it’s truly taste-tastic!
On our first visit I could barely hold down a mango smoothie, as I was so worried I’d puke up anything heavier.
But the second visit – see below! The chicken was spicy, like tandoori style, but earthy and rich.
I was somewhat preoccupied with worrying, a lot – about my stomach cramps, not eating enough to maintain energy levels, making sure I managed my diet and taking diabetic meds at the right time, whether I was drinking enough to avoid getting dehydrated.
I couldn’t settle and join in with the group as much as I wanted. And I so wanted to relax and go with the banter and be wrapped up in the excitement of the climb to come.
It was like I was surfing the little waves at the beach, instead of launching myself further out and joining the team.
I felt like a dick at the time. I wanted to tell everyone “Hey, I’m not like this normally. I’m just a twat right now, please excuse my non-smiling face and total lack of amusement. Yeah, I hate me too. Sorry.”
The night before Day 1 of the climb I laid in bed hoping that come morning I’d be bright and alert with zero stomach pains and as excited as everyone else. Don’t get me wrong, I was over the moon to be there. It was like a dozen Christmas’s come at once. That feeling didn’t vanish, but it was marred by my stomach issue and lack of appetite.
Early the next morning we climbed into 2 mini buses that took us and our gear through the amazing Tanzanian country, just under 4 hours if I remember correctly, to Londorosi Gate which is at 2,250 metres above sea level.
There we signed the visitor park book, ate lunch, took some photos and watched the porters sign in and prep for the expedition.
The place was a hive of activity with groups coming and going, porters chatting, people playing pool. Yup, there was a pool table in the waiting hut.
Okay, the lunch.
Here’s the thing.
It was weird. It came in a small pizza box. I had a carton of mango juice which was sweet and delicious. There was a tiny cremated sparrow leg, with the same taste and consistency as a rubber bouncy ball. A strange cake thing that tasted like the box itself. And a bunch of carrot and cucumber sticks.
So, yeah, weird.
I’m on the right if you couldn’t guess.
Jumping Off Point.
Back on the buses for another 40 minutes or so until we reached our setting out point, Morum Picnic site, 3,407 metres above sea level.
A quick info dump about altitude levels. Click to make big.
Just to put things into perspective.
It’s pretty high up.
The trip between gate and picnic site was fine. Pretty even. Lush forest. Extremely bumpy road. We passed a bus that had tipped over and was surrounded by locals trying to determine how to get it right side up.
The unexpected thing about altitude, that I hadn’t considered, was how you can feel okay whilst sat in a bus, but the second you hop out and begin mucking about with your backpack and trying to walk and talk…aaaaaaand BOOM!
Where’s all the air gone?
It was a strange sensation as if an invisible force was trying to lift me out of my body. I watched a few of my more eager and fitter team-mates hurry away to explore the local area – rocks, a small hill and some huts. I suspect I wasn’t the only one who was shocked by the sudden impact of high altitude.
I sat on a rock and took deep breaths.
I can’t recall if it was at this point, or the team brief the night before, where Jo told us not to fight out bodies. Don’t do any weird breathing exercises, or walking and talking too fast. We had to allow our bodies to do what they needed to do in order to cope at high altitude. Our bodies are more intelligent than we think.
I took that in. Looking back it sure does make a lot of sense. And not just at altitude either.
It was at that point I decided to check my blood sugar levels.
I wasn’t happy. Sat on a rock with a stomach filled with concrete jelly. I wanted it to settle or get the fuck out of my ass in a hurry. I needed one of those horrible yet purifying moments:
Plop. Plop. Plop. Machine gun fart. Splatter. Sizzle. Squirt.
This kind of event is usually accompanied with a sudden sweat soaked face, trembling hands, feeling light-headed. But oh so relieved the devil has been purged, right out the ass and back into hell!
You’ve been there before, right?
It’s a situation normal people try to avoid.
Not me. Not then. I wanted rid of the evil.
Yeah, well that didn’t happen for me.
My stomach was in no mood to grant requests. Whatever sick bastard had taken residence inside me wasn’t leaving any time soon.
Checking my blood level I was shocked and angry that my gadget gave a reading of 28. I hadn’t been that high in nearly a year. I’d taken the right meds at the right time. Sure I hadn’t eaten a lot, but that should mine they’d be low, not high.
We began our trek to Shira Camp 1, our first camp. I’d taken pain killers and was drinking water.
As time passed I slowed down. I felt as if the concrete in my stomach was trying to weigh me down. With everyfoot step it ached and stabbed me. I lost track of time for a while and concentrated on my walking and watching the feet of the person in front.
Julie, a friend from work who had also signed up for the crazy adventure, slowed down from the main group to walk with me. For which I was grateful. She urged me to tell Jo how I was feeling. I didn’t want to. I wanted to make it to camp, take a massive dump and come out of the crapper tent feeling 2 stone lighter and pain-free
It was the only logical thing to do to stay safe.
I explained my symptoms to Jo, who listened and asked questions. She said to keep her updated if anything changed and we walked on. Seldom in my life have I experienced my energy levels drop so fast. Every part of my body was heavy and weak, tired and lethargic.
I stumbled to a stop at one point.
Jo asked if I was okay. I was about to respond when she said: “You’re not okay, are you?”
I made it to a rock. I have no idea how. My tank was empty. Not enough energy left to talk.
The second I sat everything came up. A hot acidic roar of bile launched itself out of my mouth. I heaved and dumped it on the dusty ground.
It’s funny how you notice things at strange times. In those few seconds, as thick sludgy drool hung from my mouth, I noticed how dark the ground was, and just how fine the dirt was too. It wasn’t dirt but grey powder. Or flour. That was it. A magic chef had scattered an endless supply of grey flour all over the Shira Plateau.
I felt Jo’s hand on my back. Soothing words.
I felt more than a little foolish. A grown man ralphing on a mountain.
I hate puking. I’ve been known to spend hours very still on the bed to avoid blowing chunks. I’d rather a family of spiders crawled all over my face.
Julie later described how she’d rarely seen anyone’s face so white so fast.
And that evil bastard in my belly just laughed and gauged his little red talons into me.
We moved on, with much encouragement from Jo, Derek (one of the guides, and an excellent human being) and Julie. I hated myself. I’m talking deep dark angry loathing. I wanted to snap my fingers and be transformed. Free from pain and happy!
I hated how I wasn’t enjoying a single thing. We trekked alongside these amazing canyons, filled with boulders, streams and so much stuff to look at. All I could concentrate on were the set of boots in front, my breathing, sipping water, making my walking poles work properly.
Side note: I know the 360 Expeditions kit list includes walking poles, and lots of trekking websites praise them, but looking back they were more a hindrance than a help for the most part. Maybe later when the terrain became difficult they’d be useful, but they were in the way there.
If I’d been normal I’d have taken photos and loved every second of the stunning surroundings. No. I was pissed off. I wasn’t sulking. I simply wasn’t well enough to take anything in and enjoy it.
Maybe it was hours later when we arrived in camp. It was dusk. The team were in the mess tent. I wanted to make a bold entrance and say “Hey! Hey! Better later than never! How’s everyone enjoying day one?”
I wanted to be that person.
Jo spoke to me outside my tent. She had a tiny pill that would either prompt me to puke the rest up or ease my stomach. Kill or cure basically.
I collapsed in my tent, did a kind of half shuffle on my matt, and remained that way. I’d taken note of the toilet tents – like a port-a-potty but in a tent. I want to purge myself. But all I could do was lie there, letting my body take deep breaths, unable to move my leaden limbs and feeling consumed by a plethora of emotions I never want in my head and heart again.
Let’s see – I was angry with myself. I felt humiliated for being so slow and weak. I felt like I’d let so many people down, the team, people at home – friends, family, people who’d donated to the charity. I felt guilty for not doing better when I knew I should. I was anxious about whether something was really wrong with me. I worried about so many things my head hurt.
I’d dreamt about the trek for months and the reality was quite different.
Jo’s tiny wonder pill did indeed help, for about 20 minutes. I even managed to get to the loo.
I did a wee. Just a fucking wee.
And that was dark and cloudy. Ew. Fucking ewwwwwww!
Where was the joyous big dump I deserved?
Julie came and checked on me. I smiled and tried to be a grown up. I was okay. I just needed to rest, get some sleep and things will be cool in the morning. I didn’t eat because I was certain I’d puke again, and that was not happening!
My spirits were lifted when a few of the team stuck their head in the tent and asked if I was okay. I was told they’d cheered when I arrived in camp. That still makes me smile.
I managed to get my kit sorted, and crawled into my sleeping bag. I shivered for a while before putting thermals on. I found a comfortable position and tried to get some sleep.
Julie headed out to the toilet in the night.
I was jealous of her.
And I was worried. I’d drunk 3 litres of water and squirted a feeble shot glass worth of cloudy piss.
Where had all my wee-wee gone?
That’s not the best photo of me. At about 6 or 7 am I was an aching, unhappy, weary dick head. Still, that’s the sun rising above Mount Kibo. Cool huh?
After another disappointing wee I spoke to Jo and discussed my symptoms again. I was more than worried if I continued and got worse, well, I didn’t want to consider that. I hadn’t acclimatised well enough even though I’d drunk some during the night I was dehydrated and that’s not good. And my stomach wanted to kill me.
I forced myself not to cry when Jo said I’d reached my summit.
My expedition was over.
Even now it hurts to recall that moment. I could have dropped into my tent, placed my head in my hands and wept. I had failed my team, my friends, family and myself. How do I tell everyone and avoid tears?
In the mess tent I actually loved the odd pizza slices of scrambled egg, although the chocolate maize porridge was something of an acquired taste. The team asked how I was.
That was all I could muster.
And I’m sorry. I wanted to say more. I wanted to join their laughter and banter. I wanted to keep on going.
I didn’t want to go home.
Jo spoke to the team about the trek ahead that day and then asked me if she could tell them.
I kept my eyes on the table.
I couldn’t speak. I just nodded.
Jo said that after struggling the day before and not having improved in the night, I wouldn’t be continuing. “Sadly, Dave has reached his summit.”
I blinked and forced a smile. Never have I felt so small, lonely, weak and pathetic in my entire life. I’d let them all down. I hated myself.
I was given congratulations for getting so far, that it was still an amazing achievement.
I was grateful for the support.
If you were there with me, then thank you, sincerely, your kind words helped me get through the rest of the day.
I watched as the team gathered together, ready to break camp and head for Shira Camp 2.
Jo explained that we’d have to trek a few hours to the 4×4 track, where I’d be picked up by a park ranger, driven to Moshi and hospital, at least for a checkup, maybe a drip if I was still dehydrated.
Julie wore a sad smile on her face.
She asked if I wanted her to come with me. The fact that was ready to give up her own trek and summit attempt was enough to choke me to silence.
I couldn’t speak, only shake my head. I wasn’t going to cry. I managed to say no. She asked again and I refused. I couldn’t have that on my conscience.
It’s at times like those when I’m reminded of what true friendship means.
I’m not talking about being mates, bit of banter down the pub, or hanging out at work.
True friendship goes beyond simple actions and words. It is about making a true connection with another human being. Friendship is something I hold in the highest regard. To me it is more precious than gold or diamonds.
Rarely have I experienced such a deep, heart-felt, soul touching moments of friendship.
I forced myself not to cry, although my voice did crack. I told her to keep going and reach that summit.
I shook hands with the team, told them good luck, and received best wishes.
We parted company along the trail between Shira Camps 1 and 2. I walked with Jo, and outstanding guides Patrick and Suley. I can’t praise these guys enough, or the porters. We’ll come to them in a later post.
My own trek was spent in quiet contemplation until we reached the 4×4 track.
I won’t deny that day was one of the worst in my life.
I had failed, big time, and it hurt in so many ways.
At the time I had no idea that my real adventure was about to begin.
And that, dear blog reader, is a story for another time.
I’ve said before that I’m not a fan of anyone sharing random memes because they’re often thrust online with little thought as to why they want to share that message, other than jumping on a social media junkie trend train to show how clued up/smart/linked in/connected/down with the shizzle they are. Choo fucking choo.
Today I’m not one of those vacuous zombies.
I’m going to share something personal with you, dear blog reader. Yeah, like I’ve never done that before!
This is somewhat different because it relates directly to a big (perhaps the main) reason why I love to write.
Yesterday was Roald Dahl’s 100th Birthday. I missed it. Soz. Hey, I don’t keep records of dead writers in my diary for the chance I might spot a milestone like the big one oh oh and throw out some insincere messages like other sheeple.
Besides, the guy’s dead.
Alive, his stories very much are.
The Giant Peach
I won’t bore you with a gigantic post today.
I was tempted to keep this short and sweet. But no. I’ve got my happy on today so ner ner na ner ner.
Just read it and be all warm and fuzzy and inspired and shit.
When I was about 7 or 8 I read Roald Dahl’s James and the Giant Peach. I read a load more after that too, but it was that first book that grabbed my attention. Big time.
This was back in the olden days before movies and cover redesigns were en vogue to capture the attention of children who’ve just seen the movie and now want to relive the story, albeit without the 3D visuals, rumbling surround sound, or their giggling mates. And minus munching popcorn in the dark or sucking sugary death from a novelty themed toy Coca Cola cup.
I guess you could curl up all quiet and comfy in bed with the book version, night-light, a bag of Butterkist and your cinema trophy filled with Robinsons.
Not quite the same, is it?
THAT’S WAY BETTER!!
Movies are cool and have their place, but I
like love books!
I read the adventures of James and his pals when I was very young. Everything about it screamed at me in a way I’d not experienced before, and if I’m honest not since either.
It was like that scene in Wizard of Oz where Dorothy opens the door onto a world drenched in colour.
Either she’d never seen colour before, or the director wanted the audience to be wowed by the transition.Doesn’t matter which. We share Dorothy’s sense of seeing the world the right way or like lifting a dark and grubby veil so she could stare in wonder at how much colour and magic the world has in it.
Doesn’t matter which. We share Dorothy’s sense of seeing the world the right way or like lifting a dark and grubby veil to take in the magic and wonder of a colour soaked world.
James and the Giant Peach had that effect on me.
I lived inside that book.
I was there right next to James at every twist, every turn, every shocking revelation.
It was as if that book had been written to slot perfectly into my personality and how I saw the world. I got the humour, the quirky characters, the sudden changes in life that without warning can knock you off one path and onto another.
Roald Dahl had slipped into a hidden layer behind my life to direct it for a moment to give me a Dorothy/Oz moment when I opened that book.
I didn’t only see words on the pages. My imagination lifted them into the world and like Dorothy’s door, the pages of that book spewed out characters, scenes, emotional highs and lows.
Quick side-note on the above picture. Fabulous isn’t it? It’s by an artist Kelly Cambell Berry. Find her on Etsy.
A lot of my primary school friends (even some in high school and beyond) declared they never read books. I found that strange like there was something wrong with them. I didn’t understand how anyone could not read a book. To some degree, I still don’t.
If not for that one moment…
I believe if that book and I hadn’t come together at the right time, the right place, the right mood, setting and so on, then I would have spent a life reaching for an itch I couldn’t scratch. Maybe I would have written a little, but somehow I suspect without the same level of passion.
On the other hand, if you believe in fate you could argue I would still have written and enjoyed doing so because it’s in my heart.
That is, if you believe in fate.
Which I don’t.
But still, that book had a lot to do with my one true passion:
Dog Water Skiing Photography!
I found this photo months ago and have been dying to use it. How cool is that dog!
Dave, the Dreamers of Dreams? Blog title?
Ah yes. Facebook told me yesterday that Roald Dahl would have been 100 years ancient. I checked out some quirky quotes and memes and junk. And I found one quote snagged on a memory strand.
That one stood out and it took a while to figure out where I’d heard it before.
Gene. You will always be the best Willy Wonka.
When I Googled the quote I was surprised to learn it wasn’t a Willy Wonka/Roald Dahl line but from Arthur O’Shaughnessy, a British poet who in 1874 wrote a poem called Ode, made famous by its first line: “We are the music makers.”
I’d never read the poem before and found it quite beautiful.
We are the music makers,
And we are the dreamers of dreams,
Wandering by lone sea-breakers
And sitting by desolate streams;—
World-losers and world-forsakers,
On whom the pale moon gleams:
Yet we are the movers and shakers
Of the world for ever, it seems.
With wonderful deathless ditties,
we build up the world’s great cities.
And out of a fabulous story,
we fashion an empire’s glory.
One man, with a dream, at pleasure
shall go forth and conquer a crown.
And three, with a new song’s measure
can trample an empire down.
We, in the ages lying,
in the buried past of the Earth,
built Nineveh with our sighing
and Babel itself with our mirth.
And o’erthrew them with prophesying
to the old of the New World’s worth.
For each age is a dream that is dying,
or one that is coming to birth.
– Ode, Arthur O’Shaughnessy
Last night a read and reread it. I don’t understand much about poetry other than a fleeting appreciation of how words can have an interesting impact on my senses and mood. I was then surprised to learn that despite my inability to be any kind of poem aficionado I did indeed have a favourites list.
A top 3 actually, so not much of a list.
Well it’s a start.
Compared to my previous damning post about having too much choice, I’d say this has been an inspired, positive (mildy hypocritical) and uplifting experience. A short stroll through a suburb of Memory City and then a hop over to the outskirts to enjoy the sights along the lush meandering riverbanks of discovery and learning.
If you happen to be artistic and the voices of inspiration whisper to you, or perhaps you are artistically challenged and hear nothing but silence or the rushing of wind passing between your ears, then take note of the meme below.
If you’re weird – congratulations. Be bold. Seek and share your magic.
If you’re unweird – I’d like to empathise with you, sincerely, but my imagination doesn’t enjoy not being able to imagine a life where I can’t imagine.
Just remember, without those “weird people” the world would be considerably less magical.