Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Africa 3: The Safari

We went to lots of cool places on Safari. We saw lots of cool animals. The world is a pretty god damn amazing place I'm subscribing to the philosophy "a picture's worth a thousand words". Maybe someday I'll write more stories.

Africa 2: Kili

If anyone hasn't heard, I managed to successfully summit Kilimanjaro. As such, I've decided we're on first name basis, and now refer to the mountain as Kili. There are lots of wonderful things about Kili, and an equal number of horrendous things.

It takes five days to get high up enough the mountain that you can attempt to summit. These five days would be unachievable if it weren't for the porters. Our group of 10 had 35 porters (this is the best pic we've got, but not all were there):
There is no way I could have even began to summit without these amazing people. Every day, we would start out while they packed up camp. As we hiked slowly along, they would pass us, each with a roughly 40 KG pack. Not only do they carry such large packs, they carry them on their heads. When we got to camp, all the tents would be set up and lunch would be waiting. I've never felt so dependent on anyone. They're amazing.

We hiked very slowly all five days up. The guides have a creed "pole pole". It means slowly, sort of. Really, it means go slow or else you don't stand a chance of making it. And it's true. It's crazy to be at a height where your body can't really function. After our second day, we were above the cloud lines. Here is the "bathroom" at our third campsite:

Bathroom gets quotation marks, because really it's a hut built around a hole in the ground. Lots of people use these bathrooms, especially during the night, when we're all getting up six times because we're all on Diamox so we don't die at such altitudes. Consequently, the bathrooms are repulsive. 

I think that my favorite part of the experience was being above the clouds for so long. I've never really felt mountains were divine, but after being above that blanket of clouds for a week, I started to understand it. I see why the Gods dwell on Olympus. The rest of the world seems to disappear. What's going on below the clouds seems to exist vaguely. Like when you try to remember a dream. I can't think of anything I'd rather see looking out of the tent.

I was stressed about summit day the whole first five days. Those days aren't incredibly hard. They're long, and sometimes steep, and it sucks to not be able to breathe because you're at 14,000 feet, but they're achievable. When you're hiking along starting at this, however, they feel less achievable:

So summit day starts at 11 PM day five. You wake up at 11 and are on the trail by midnight. During the next 7 or 8 hours, you try to make it to the summit, a vertical change of 4,000 feet. The worst part is the 3 hours of switch backs that I swear to god are straight up. I was so worn out during those switch backs, I thought I wasn't going to make it to the summit. Somehow, the guides dragged my sorry ass up them, and we got to the last few hours along the crater rim. Hope came with the sun rise:
I've never seen anything so beautiful. I kept going and at 7:15 AM, I made it to the summit. And I think it was worth it.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Africa:1, Welcome to Africa

I have about a billion stories to tell, so for the next week: Africa stories! Yaaaaaayyyyyyy.

My plane landed in Nairobi at night time. At least, it was night time in Africa. In my time zone, which I left 28 hours before, it still early enough to have brunch. I was excited, worn out, and a little nervous about being in a brand spankin' new place.
I made it through out last 10 hour flight without peeing, because airplane bathrooms are gross. The minute we exited the airplane, I booked it for a bathroom. I walked out of the stall and realized I was the only white person in the bathroom. It wasn't uncomfortable or scary, I'm sure no one else in the bathroom cared, but I was suddenly acutely aware of the color of my skin. I was different; I was the minority. That's never happened to me before. The stories of those who fought racism in the 50s and 60s and beyond grew all the more richer in that moment.
We got in the long, inefficient line for passport control. We waited, and waited, and waited some more. After about 30 minutes, this man came up and inched his way past us. We looked behind us, and the Canadian behind us said "he just did it to me too". This man wasn't really in front of us so much as next to us. I was determined he was not going to cut me in line. I closed the gap between him and us in the line, and he went to the line next to us. The lady there gave him a piece of her mind. He didn't speak English. He spoke French. So the Frenchman behind us gave him a piece of his mind. He ignored him. We made it through, and last I saw, the 3 of them were still arguing.
All our baggage came (a miracle!), laden with bags, we made our way out to the curb where hopefully someone with a car would be waiting for us. And he was! We followed him to the car. Which had another car parked perpendicularly behind us. Getting out? Apparently not for us.
He found the police after 10 minutes of waiting. They couldn't do anything except wait with us for the owner of the car to return. An hour later, they came. The car was quickly move and we were on our way out. We asked our driver what would happen to the driver. He said, "he will be put in prison, but the police don't want to arrest him in front of American tourists."
Welcome to Africa.