Author’s note: This post is part of a series on my recent trip and climb of Mount Kilimanjaro, to read all posts click here.
I began my long journey to Africa on a special day – July 8th, 2015 – my 15-year wedding anniversary. No wise wife purposely chooses to plan a two-week trip sans kids and husband on their wedding anniversary. But I had no choice. It would take me almost 24 hours to get to Tanzania and I needed to arrive in time to get over jet lag and prepare for the big climb of Mount Kilimanjaro.
Tearfully I said goodbye to my children and husband, feeling that bittersweet emotion mixed between excitement and guilt that I always feel when leaving my family to fly half way around the world. No matter how many times I’ve done it, it never is easy and I’m always a nervous, anxiety-ridden wreck before I leave on a big trip. Perhaps it is the micro-manager in me that always feels a sense of deep anxiety with leaving my organized, scheduled family life behind. Yet my bags were packed albeit five minutes before the taxi showed up outside my door, the meals were prepared and awaiting frozen inside the depths of the freezer and the endless pages of typed out notes with schedules, idiosyncrasies and miscellaneous tidbits on the daily care of the kids were left out in two copies for each one of my babysitters. I took deep breath, let out a sigh of relief and boarded the plane. A glass of wine was in order followed by another one as I settled into my seat.
There is something grand about traveling overseas, across continents and oceans. A deep, grateful wisp of anticipation, excitement and adventure always sets deep within my veins. Fortunately I have traveled all of my life and instead of diminishing, my love of wanderlust never seems to fade. Instead, it grows stronger like a huge oak tree firmly rooted into the ground and expanding upon each bit of sunlight and drop of rain.
Every time I get in the air, I turn on the flight tracker and watch in amazement the places we pass, soaring through the sky to the next adventure. This time it would be Tanzania, not a new continent for me but a new place. The first stop was in Amsterdam where I would had a couple of hours layover before boarding my next nine-hour flight directly to Kilimanjaro International Airport, located about an hour’s drive from Moshi where I’d be staying for the next couple of days.
I slept a tiny bit, ate and ate, drank wine and watched three movies until we landed into the dark African skies of Tanzania. I would have strongly preferred landing during daylight as I like to get a feel of the layout of the land. But it would have to wait until the next day. Much of Africa is unlit at night so the hour’s drive was uneventful. I couldn’t see a thing let alone catch a glimpse of the mountain looming unforeseen in the distance that I was going to spend the next seven days trying to climb.
We stayed at a tourist hotel called the Springlands located just outside Moshi, a small city that along with Arusha, is the jumping off point for a Kilimanjaro climb or an African safari. It is a nice, clean and welcoming hotel packed with fellow trekkers and safari-goers that offers rooms with three or four twin beds each, decent buffet-style dining and a wonderful, smiling staff. After two days at Springlands, it felt like home.
I shared a room with two of my fellow “Solar Sisters”, Neha and Caroline who work in DC and Rhode Island respectively and are an integral part of the Solar Sister Team. Our group of Solar Sister Summit Climbers would be nine in total, along with our American guide Chaney and a team of 30 local staff of porters, cooks and guides who we would meet in a few days at the start of our climb.
The first full day was spent recovering from the long flight and gearing up for the hike. We would have a meeting the following day to go over the essentials of the climb including what gear to pack, what are the symptoms of AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness) and what we were to expect over the next seven days.
As the sun was setting on the first night, a group of us walked out of our hotel doors and captured our first glimpse of the mighty mountain were going to climb. When I first saw it, I yelped in shock. It was so incredibly massive! I had climbed in the Andes, the Alps and Himalayas of Nepal yet never on a stand-alone volcano. The sheer mass and size of Mount Kilimanjaro stunned me.
My first reaction was one of fear. I was going to climb that? I must admit I was a bit surprised to see just how incredibly big Kilimanjaro is. From all the way down where I stood in the harvested fields of maize, my heart thundered. It was going to be a long hike that was for sure. Although it was incredibly intimidating, I knew I could do it. I had wanted to do it for over 15 years and I was finally there and going to try my best to reach the top.
I went to sleep both exhilarated and filled with nerves. Did I train enough? How hard would it be? Would I get altitude sickness? Would that old hip injury I’d been tending cause me pain? Finally I closed my eyes, forgetting about all the “what if’s” and imagined what it would feel like to be on top. Sublime.