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The climb up Mt. Kilimanjaro  
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Day Nine - Coming Down the Mountain

   

"What a long strange trip it's been!"

2/27/10: This was our final day on the mountain, Day Nine. It was sad, and exciting, all at the same time. It was sad because in a few hours, this was all going to be over. It was exciting because we were going to be able to shower and sleep in a hotel room. Still, the sadness of knowing I will not be seeing most of everyone I had been with the past nine days, we prevalent.
Our morning reveille began the same way it had in past mornings; we were awoken by Peter and Richard with their tray of tea, coffee, cocoa and hot water. What a pleasure it had been all week to greet each day with their smiling faces. I took this opportunity to ask them to write down their contact information in my moleskin. It was such a value having these gentlemen wake us up each day. I knew today would be the last time, for that I was truly sad.


Peter (left) and Richard with the morning tea, and writing down their
information in my moleskin using a Lario Ransome' pen.

Angie and I packed our gear for the last time. As in the past eight days, our carrying gear for the day went into our daypacks which we carried, and everything else went into our duffels, which a porter carried. Our bowls of hot water came, we washed up and met in the mess tent for breakfast. Our breakfast this day seemed festive. We were all excited, we were going home, or at least to our respective hotels. Nathalie was especially excited in that she would be reunited with Bruno in just a short while.

After breakfast and packing our gear, we set out to descend the final three and a half hours down the mountain to Mweka Gate. This entire trek would be through the rainforest. The trail would step down for many kilometers before connecting with a dirt road that dumped us right into the lap of the Mweka Gate.


Marek is ready to attack the last stretch of trail.


There goes Barry and Sachin.


I was hiking with guide Frank again. That poor guy had to put up with my sore knees
and my constant groaning every time we had a step down.

Though the trail looked like the best trail one could ever hope to hike on, it was not. It was still going downward, which meant a further challenge for my barely healed knees. I had the stiff leg walk going all over again. I could not wait to reach the bottom. It seemed the porters couldn’t wait either. They were flying by with full packs and duffels on their heads. Most of them were in a semi-run demeanor, and as usual, they were all smiling. Being the kind of guy I am, I could not help but to greet all or them with a “JJJJaaaaammmmbbbooooo.”

As the trail left our camp, it was strewn with beautiful wild flowers which caught the lens’ of our cameras. This meant that we were not moving in the fastest of paces. All of the sudden now, after 9 days on the mountain with plenty of free time, we decided to take our time and stop at every blooming flower and take three pictures each of them. That may be a little bit of an exaggeration; however it was apparent none of us were in a hurry, except maybe one person, Nathalie.


Nathalie was excited for she was informed that she may be reunited with Bruno at the base of the mountain. I knew she missed him, and I would assume he missed her. He better, she’s an amazing woman. Nathalie never complained, never waivered, never held the group up, or needed any extra help. Nathalie is a wonderfully strong woman, she is amazing. Looking back on this expedition I realize now just how amazing each and every person on this climb was. It was kind of like one of those movies that show an intersection of characters in the beginning then plays back each individual’s story in relation to the intersection that was bound to happen.


Nathalie heading down the mountain to see Bruno!

This story was really cool! This particular ascent was designed by Barry and his son Sachin, who were fulfilling Barry’s birthday wish, to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, after first warming up on Mount Meru. The two had planned this trip for nearly two years, and they put a tremendous amount of research into the best, most exciting and scenic routes available. From that, two middle school friends that hooked up 35 years later on facebook with an initial message that read, “Want to climb Mount Kilimanjaro? It’s in Africa You know” found this route listed on the Team Kilimanjaro website. This was Angie and I of course, we signed on. Then for a while no one else jumped on the bandwagon. Maybe three months later we received an email from Bruno saying he and Nathalie were going with us and that Angie would not be the only female in the group, hooray! A short time later, a business owner from Kalamazoo, Michigan signed on, solo. Of course I wanted to know more about him. We exchanged a few emails, pictures, added him to our website. This was David Betz, a very good man.


David is always smiling. He really enjoyed the ride!

With maybe only two weeks to go, finally our eighth and final participant came aboard, Marek from Vancouver. Marek is a real adventure man. This was his second time up the mountain. He had successfully climbed this mountain before, from the other side. He wanted to try another route so he signed on to join us. He had a great attitude, very driven and very strong. Our group was complete!


Marek, a true adventure man!

What is unique about our climb was not only the people but also the route. Barry had worked with Team Kilimanjaro’s David Squire, a Kilimanjaro enthusiast and expert climber, to iron out the most unique and beautiful route up this mountain. The Western Breach was the crescendo; it was the grandest of all routes, providing not only the biggest challenge but the largest personal reward. At the time, it may have seemed intimidating but looking back, the Western Breach is the only way! I suggest trying it before it gets closed because it is extremely dangerous. I could see it being closed someday, but then I am not an expert. There is a website however dedicated to informing people as to the dangers of the Western Breach. Check it out now!

As we found our way down the Mweka path, there was opportunity to reflect on the past 9 days. It seemed like so long ago that we were weighing our bags at the Lemosho Gate. We were different people now, or at least I admit I am different now. But then I am very different anyway. I had a transformation on July 31st, 2010, a gift from God. My higher power that day answered my prayers and put a beautiful woman and a beautiful mountain in my path, and removed all of the pain that I had been suffering under. This is a very large part of the story, and I have gone back and forth around how much I actually want to hang out here on the internet. My original intention is to write the book I initially spoke about, using these web notes as my Kilimanjaro guide, and completing the story yet to be told. As I said, there is so much more to this story, and it will be told, just probably not here. So, let’s get back to the mountain.


.Solomon, Angie, Peter and I pause for a timer photo.

The trail eventually merged with a somewhat passable dirt road. As we picked up speed since it was less rocky, we began to pass locals coming up the road, collecting firewood along the road, carrying sticks on their heads, and things like that. One guy heading up the road had a big floppy hat on and was hard to see who was under it. Once he went by me, I saw a grin on his face and realized it was Bruno, sneaking up the road to surprise Nathalie. I quickly hit the “On” button on my video camera and caught the reunion as it unfolded. There were some tears of joy from both Bruno and Nathalie, but there was also a cheer from the other climbing party members. We were happy to see Bruno again, he looked like he was doing well. And to have his girl under his arm, he was in heaven.


Bruno and Nathalie reunited.

We kept our pace up, sometimes stopping to take pictures of flowers, or posing for a picture, even the monkeys in the trees overhead warranted a quick rest and photo session. Amazingly, the porters kept flying by us. They were always in a near sprint. I am not sure why they were in such a hurry, maybe it was cause they were going home, or close to being paid, or maybe it was just easier to run than to walk. I did not ask, I realize now I wished I had. My pace was a crawl though, my knees were shot. Both of them. My left I injured aggressively coming down the day before, and the right gave way since it was taking all of the abuse as I protected my left. I had to walk with both legs fully extended, not bending either at the knee. I looked like Frankenstein, and I was slow. Ofcourse each guide that passed me said, “It is just a little further, we are almost there.” That meant to me, about 3 more hours! I thought this road would be easier to walk on than the trail. Not so, even though the trail had steps, the road was still steep and downward so I was in the same pain with the same slow pace.

Here comes the Kilimanjaro ambulance, check it out.

Finally off in the distance I could see vehicles parked. Once we passed through the entrance to the Mweka gate, we were greeted with tons of locals trying very aggressively to sell us things. Unfortunately I had passed all my shillings out to any porter that passed me that looked vaguely familiar. I had 7,000 shillings left. One guy hounded me all the way to the Ranger’s station where we signed out from the mountain. I finally got him down in price and bought a string wrist band fashioned in the colors of the Tanzanian flag. I still wear that lanyard, and am happy I bought it. I realize now I wished I had maybe picked up a few more items at this time. They had an awesome selection and they were much more willing to negotiate price that I would learn later in the local markets.


We were reunited with Felix as well. Felix took Bruno down two days earlier.
He came up the trail and met us. Angie, Felix and Joshua.

I was tired, and I couldn’t take being hounded. I mean there was no where I could put my eyes that didn’t receive a person thinking I wanted to buy something. I finally said to Joshua, “Just get me out of here.” He guided me towards the bus and I quickly boarded. Of course I had the guy at the door of the bus that wouldn’t leave me alone. He had one lone t-shirt that he wouldn’t give up on trying to sell me. I didn’t want it, I didn’t want anything. I was willing to give him whatever I had left just to leave me alone. Actually in the coming days, I did just that. I paid a couple people just to leave me alone. That actually worked! So the t-shirt guy wouldn’t quit, I eventually surrendered my last couple thousand shilling for this stupid Nike styled shirt that read, “I just did it.” As Angie boarded the bus I told her I bought this stupid t-shirt. She asked to see it and quickly pointed out it was a medium, way too small for me. She suggested I throw it from the bus as we drive, which is what I did with all my gum, candy, pens, etc. It was fun, kids lined the country road all the way down to Moshi. I had fun tossing whatever I had that they would want and watching them scramble for the items. I don’t know if that is frowned upon or not, but I did it never the less. Sorry Africa! It was fun though.

Before the bus left, we were blessed with songs performed acapella by the porters and guides of our climbing party. This was really exciting, and it was nice to see Joshua and his guides right out there with the porters, singing, clapping and dancing. Check out the video!

 

Once coming completely off of the mountain, we drove through Moshi. Team Kilimanjaro provided us one last lunch, at a real restaurant. This restaurant offered western oriented fare, so like the big American I am, I had the Bacon Cheeseburger and fried. Now that was good, but it wasn’t anywhere close to Solomon’s cooking. At the time though, an African burger and fries was just what I wanted! We had a nice lunch. We went around the table and everyone was allowed to comment. We all then handed our tips to Joshua, who would distribute them accordingly. Then we boarded the bus and headed towards Arusha and our hotel.

I had one concern though. If you know me, you know my love for Maui Jim sunglasses. They are simply the best sunglasses in the world. I use them for riding in enduro races, climbing mountains, deep sea fishing, they are the best! When we reached the crater a couple days ago, Peter was having some trouble seeing due to the snow which can cause blindness. Since Angie’s eyes were basically closed, I reclaimed my extra pair of sunglasses from her so she didn’t lose them. I mean protecting my Jims was likely not high on her list of concerns as she succumbed to altitude sickness. So I reclaimed them. I noticed Peter’s distress and I put them on his face as he collected Angie to take her down the mountain. At the time I thought it was a good idea but then I started thinking, “Man, those were my favorite sunglasses, I am going to get those back for sure.” Now I know Peter is an honorable man so I had no doubt that he would give them back to me but I wanted to make sure I didn’t just forget about them. For all he knew, they were $10 glasses from the market. They were’nt though, they were the H’obika’s, around $180 U.S. and had been lost once, then reclaimed, then taken to Africa with love. I took two pairs just to be safe, glad I did.

Once we were all reunited, I asked Peter for the glasses. He told me that he loaned them to one of the porters whom already went down the mountain. I told him I really want those back, he said, “Don’t worry.” Well I was worrying, I couldn’t see how I would get them back since the porter that had them was gone and we were going to our hotel. I mentioned it to Joshua as well, he also told me, “Don’t worry.” Angie had also misplaced her walking poles. Those were rather pricey as well, and I know she wanted those back too. All I could think about at this point, on the bus ride to Arusha, was my glasses.

As we drove, the bus pulled over to the side of the road and a gentleman got on. We were kind of in the middle of nowhere, which was shocking that there was this guy just standing there.  The bus doors opened, and he got on. He was carrying my sunglasses and Angie’s poles. I had to hug him. So now my journey was complete!

We arrived at Angie and my hotel first. As we disembarked, we all lined up to get our certificate of completion presented to us by Joshua. This was the final gesture! It was done, we made it and now it was over. I had this kind of “Now What” feeling but it didn’t last long. We checked into our room, had the bags we had stored delivered, along with the bags we took with us. Meanwhile, I called home to let my mom know we made it, we were okay and that I loved her. It was nice to make that connection. It was around 2pm in Africa and 10pm at home. We made our way to our awesome 6th floor room with a great view of the mountain, or what we could see below the clouds of it, and the pool and courtyard below. I said to Angie, “I have a better idea than a shower, let’s hit the pool.” She liked that idea. We quickly gathered a few things, and bolted for the pool.

We threw our stuff on a chair, Angie dipped her toe in to check the temperature, and I just cannon-balled right into the deep end. Now this may not have been the best idea. I am not a world class swimmer, nor was I really prepared to swim at this point, being as exhausted as I was. As my breath began to wear out and I came back up to the surface for more air, I realized, “Hey, I need to paddle or something or I’m going to take in some serious water.” I kicked my legs, flailed my arms and realized I was having trouble trying to tread water. I was truly tired. My legs weren’t working too well and just my arms weren’t enough to keep me above water. I somewhat panicked, dog paddled to the edge of the deep end. Angie was talking to the waiter ordering a water or something and I reached up, grabbed the lovely red beauty and pulled her in! Splash!!!!! We met in the water, kissed, hugged and floated around together for a while. I can still feel the refreshment of that water. What a great feeling to have that water all around us, her arms wrapped around me and the memory of the nine days on Mount Kilimanjaro. It felt really good, I felt really good, and Angie, well she felt really good to me too! Now it was time to spend time with each other recapping the previous several days.

That pool would be our haven for the next couple of days. They had a wonderful tiki area around the pool lined with lounge chairs, umbrellas and a big brick wall. The hotel had three restaurants, a Chinese, an Italian and an Indian restaurant. We had the Indian food several times, usually delivered to us poolside. The next couple of days I really did get to know Angie better. We had some really deep conversations regarding what we did and felt, what we’d like to do, and what we would do next.

I had made friends with Venance, the driver that took us up to the Lemosho Gate, remember his brother was Felix? He said he would come see me when we returned, and like his promise, he did. He said he would take us around Arusha and turn me on to his favorite Reggae music. I love reggae music, and basically had a reggae soundtrack playing in my head all week. I still remember him picking us up in a rain storm, and driving down the main road in Arusha listening to Capleton’s “Leaders Let The People Down.” We were jamming! He took us to a local market where we picked up some trinkets and souvenirs. I bought an oil painting for my kitchen, a necklace that I am still wearing and a coke in a bottle, mmmmmmmm. Angie bought a bunch of things as well. Now that I think about it, I also bought a stone chess set for Chris Topher who was watching my home. He loves chess, and I knew he’d love this chess set.

That evening, Venance came back and picked us up. Our plan was to go to the Vera Vera club, a local world music styled club. Since it was still raining and the Vera Vera club is pretty much outdoors, Venance suggested we go to dinner first. We asked him to take us to his favorite local spot, which he did. We had a great meal, and then made our way to the Vera Vera club. A local lady, Mama C, was performing. Mama C and her husband run a school that teaches locals to speak English. She also writes and performs her own music. All of her songs were uplifting, positive-message songs. We had a really nice time. Felix, Venance’s brother also showed up. It was good to share this time with them.

I cannot overstress how wonderful the African people I met were. These are truly genuine, respectful, kind, fun-loving and happy people. I loved each and every person I met there; I cannot even remember one bad experience. You know, we may have a lot of “stuff” in this country, but they have every bit as much heart and happiness that I have ever found in America. I love Africa, Tanzania is a wonderful country!

We made our way back to our hotel, the day was through. It was time to rest. After catching up on emails in the internet café in our hotel, we drew the mosquito net around our king sized bed and turned in for the night. All is well in the Impala Hotel in Arusha, Tanzania. Life is grand, truly grand!!!

 

   

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