Monday, October 22, 2012

Wisdom for the Ages

As I was reading the book of Wisdom this morning, a book that was written 2100 years ago, chapter 14 sounded like it could have been written yesterday.  Here's an excerpt:

"They no longer safeguard either lives or pure wedlock; but each either waylays and kills his neighbor, or aggrieves him by adultery.  And all is confusion -- blood and murder, theft and guile, corruption, faithlessness, turmoil, perjury, disturbance of good men, neglect of gratitude, besmirching of souls, unnatural lust, disorder in marriage, adultery and shamelessness...For as their trust is in soulless idols, they expect no harm when they have sworn falsely."

Does that sound like a society you know?  Disturbance of good men?  Disorder in marriage?  Corruption and faithlessness?  I love when people say that the Church is irrelevant.  Yeah, this sure sounds like the author, both the physical author and the Divine Author, has no idea what he is talking about.  This sure sounds antiquated (sarcasm, people).  It is as true today as it was two millennia ago.  When we worship the false idols of power, money, fame, and instant gratification, we destroy our human dignity and the pure and perfect love that we are meant to receive.  It's no mystery how we've gotten to where we are.  And it's no mystery how to undo it. 

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Verso l'alto

  • Up at 10:45 (actually still 9.29 at this point), dressed and eating “breakfast,” hoping that this is the last porridge I’ll have to eat.  Turns out that one step at a time isn’t that hard when that’s all the farther you can see in front of you.
Just starting out, under the light of the full moon
  • Longest 5 ½ hours of my life.  (probably not really, but that’s how it felt at the time.  Not gonna sugar-coat it, I was miserable)  Froze the whole way to the top.  My trusty hand and foot warmers at least gave me peace of mind that I wasn’t getting frostbite.  Going pole pole was painful.  I wanted to go faster only because faster = warmer.  Trouble breathing from the get-go.  Not because of the thin air but because the air trapped in my stomach pushed my diaphragm against my lungs and I would’ve traded my hat and gloves for one good belch.
  • Camelbak froze around 2am, Nalgenes started freezing shortly after that.  It’s a chore to force myself to eat and drink.  When we hit Stella Point, I was so grateful to be almost done with this madness.  Hosea said “another one our and a half to two hours maybe” and I swear I wanted to punch him. (not the most Christian thought, I know, but that’s what I wrote in my journal. Blame the violent tendencies on the altitude)  Fortunately, it only felt like another 45 minutes or so, but my watch was buried under 6 layers, so who knows.
  • Summit was honestly anticlimactic.  I was just hoping that some of the pictures turned out, because that was the only thing keeping me going.  I was too cold to take my mittens off to take any of my own pics.  Too cold to get the summit bears out of my pack.  Too cold to smile.  The best part about the summit was actually just after we left the top, running into our Utah friends.  It was so wonderful to share that with them and to know that we were in it together.
Tebowing at the top
  • “Lunch” at 9:30 or so was crepe sandwiches which tasted fantastic given my ever-present nausea.  It was a steep, dusty trip down, lots of nearly rolled ankles, but we booked it to Mweka Camp and arrived an hour ahead of schedule. 
  • Meat!  Dinner included reinforcements from the bottom, so we had chicken and beef, and avocados the size of my head.  Not joking.  Said a sad, long goodbye to the Utah folks and promised to email. 

  • Early morning, but glad to be finally done with waking up in a tent and getting dressed sitting down.  Quick hike down to the bottom with only one pole (the other wouldn’t lock).  We saw monkeys, which seems minor, but turned out to be a highlight. 
  • The certificate ceremony was quite the production.  The Kiliwarriors sang and danced for us, and I actually understood the second half of the Kilimanjaro song this time. (they chant things about each of the camp sites and while I don’t know what they said about each one, I did recognize Machame, Barranco, Karanga, etc.)
I get my certificate
  • We had to wait quite a while for Peter to come get us in the fun bus to take us to our hotel for showers.  It gave us time to see the Utah folks one more time, but it also presented an easy target for all the locals selling souvenirs.  One guy told me Obama was his homeboy.  Great.  Can’t wait to get back to the States for the election hoopla.
  • We arrived at Kia Lodge to take showers and naps.  It’s hard to describe this place except to say that the emphasis is on nature.  Cabins sit amidst an array of plant life, and birds, lizards and insects are everywhere, including in the open-air restaurant during our lunch.  The shower was supposed to be a highlight of the trip but turned into a chore since the shower head was broken and the mosquito screens in the bathroom were ineffective and had me paranoid.  Still, felt good to be clean.
Lizard at the KIA Lodge
  • JRO airport is quite the novelty.  We didn’t see much of it on the way in, but they have four international “gates” which are really just doors straight out onto the tarmac.  During the three hours we were at the airport, they had two domestic flights and two international flights the whole time.  Once you go through security, that’s it.  No shops, no drinking fountain, barely a bathroom.  It was a long couple hours waiting for our flight.

  • Uneventful travel day.  Mostly spent trying to drink lots of water and trying to keep Dad from sneezing on me.  Caught up on lots of movies.  So great to be headed home.

And there you have it folks.  The trip of a lifetime, an epic adventure.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

My kingdom for a Zofran

  • I’ve decided that without a bathroom tent, I would have officially abandoned ship by this point.  Still nauseous during breakfast, but not as bad as Mary.
  • Our “short hike” up Barranco Wall turned into a massive traffic jam as climbers and porters made their way up the rocks.  Lots of ups and downs and rock climbing and waiting.  Bounty bars made the hike a little more bearable.
Barranco Wall
  • Drama of the day: when we arrived at camp, the bathroom tent was NOT READY!  Turns out the water source for this camp site is a little ways away and our porters are still bringing water back for the toilet.  Still, changing into camp clothes feels pretty good.
  • Now it’s raining.  Awesome.  After feeling crappy all day, I’m now freezing and the thought of food makes me want to vomit.  Laura and Mary think they are being helpful by suggesting foods that might sound appetizing, but it all gets to me and I break into tears.  Way to be the wussy Zapapas. 
  • Our Utah friends came to say hi.  It made me feel better and worse.  Better because they are wonderful and funny and positive.  Worse because they all looked super warm and said they are used to skiing when it’s 10 below and know how to layer.  My version of skiing is 50 degrees and sunny.  A hot water bottle in the sleeping bag makes things a little better and at least I avoid the mid-night bathroom run.
  • Laura gets dressed so much faster than I do.  I tell her this and she says, “well I had to pee.”  (I’m sure she loves that I shared that.  We talked a lot more about bathroom topics than anyone should.)  A mocha and the sun coming out make things a little brighter, but I’m still trying to figure out how Aunt Carol did this twice and loved it.
  • I have an altitude brain moment and try to put my gaiter on over my other gaiter.  Doesn’t work so well. 
  • We pass Barafu camp and pause to rest in the sun.  It feels amazing.  As we start heading up towards our cheater camp for the night, porters carrying a stretcher pass us, going up to bring down a hiker in trouble.  That is tempered by all the people we pass who are on their way down who say it’s so worth it and to take one step at a time.  Feels good to know we are within striking distance.

Enjoying the heat of the sun
  • The afternoon and evening are spent trying to balance rest and cramming food down our throats.  Of the three rules on the mountain (eat enough, drink enough, pole pole), pole pole has become the easiest.  Dinner is grilled cheese and tomato sandwiches which is a Godsend because it actually is appetizing.  And even though it doesn’t feel like I slept, apparently I was snoring.  So, go me.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Dolly Parton and other comforts of home

  • Slept well, considering the Diamox; only up once during the night.  Mary is already struggling with a headache and didn’t sleep at all.  We wake up to a coffee bar outside our tent (hot water, coffee, tea, cocoa, sugar, etc.) and warm water in the bathroom tent “sink.”  The Kiliwarriors have impressed thus far.  We are calling Luceri (later we learn his nickname is Masta) our “barista” since he is the one who takes care of our coffee in the morning.  Despite the fact that all the Kiliwarriors introduced themselves this morning during a fine performance of the Kilimanjaro song, we aren’t going to be remembering many names.
  • Breakfast is fabulous: bacon, papaya, campfire toast (there isn’t really a fire on the mountain, but it looks and smells like the real deal), and omelets!  Meanwhile, our 25 Kiliwarriors are eating corn porridge with beef sauce.  Only Hosea gets to eat the good stuff in our mess tent with us while he runs through our day and checks our pulse ox.  This morning Mary wins bragging rights for what proves to be the low resting HR of the trip.  Her numbers are 97/50, worthy of a mile-high (former) collegiate athlete.
  • We are told that our omelets are made with white-necked raven eggs.  I nearly knock over the mess tent getting my camera out when one of these birds walks by outside our tent.  (We all feel pretty foolish when we find out three days later that our guides were just messing with us.  The white-necked ravens are everywhere on the mountain, but we are eating chicken eggs.)
  • Uneventful day of hiking, short but steep.  Lunch set-up was fabulous and we even got to take a Mars bar break while we took the daily pic for Facebook.  We played a little Euchre, our Utah friends came by to say hi, and we had another fabulous meal for dinner—pumpkin soup, avocado salad, chicken and rice, peas in peanut sauce, etc.  We are calling Emmanuel our “stomach engineer.”
Mars bar time!
  • This won’t be as funny to the rest of the world as it was to our family, but I’m gonna tell it anyway.  During dinner, we were discussing music and movies and Shanta.  And he says, “do you know who sings Jolene?”  With his accent, we didn’t understand what song he said, so he starts singing, “Jolene, Jolene, Jolene…”  Do we know Jolene!?!?  We may be the only family who could have serenaded Shanta with the entire song right there at the dinner table.  So we did.  Turns out Dolly Parton is a big favorite in Tanzania, or at least among the Kiliwarriors.  We would go on to hear Hosea joyfully butcher the lyrics (“Please don’t take my man because you can”) and Wilbert, another Kiliwarrior guide, do a very passable rendition.
  • Amusing last comments on going to sleep: Getting warm, packing, getting warm, brush teeth, bathroom, getting warm, Laura kicked me, bathroom, getting warm.

  • Cold this morning, feeling a little nauseous.  Try to pick which part of the five-course breakfast sounds most appetizing.
  • Hike to Lava Tower for lunch is so pole pole.  Although Mary and Laura needing to use the bathroom tent actually had us passing porters as we ended the last stretch in a near-run. 
  • Climbing Lava Tower was super fun!  The closest to real rock climbing that we’ll get on this trip.  We also met up with the other Kiliwarriors group who is doing the Western Breach route. 
Almost like professional rock climbers
  • Mary wiped out, necessitating the first use of the first aid kit.  Thank goodness we had a doctor on the trip.  Actually the most clutch moment was Chade cleaning all the mud off Mary’s new jacket.  That was the bigger concern.
  • Learned a new phrase today.  Twendae sasa = let’s go now.  As a trade, Laura taught Shanta some Spanish—que linda!  Both of these are repeated multiple times throughout the day as we try to cement them in our brain.
Que Linda! The giant senecio trees were super cool.
  • Tried washing our hair at camp tonight.  Turns out that waterless shampoo doesn’t make you any less wet or any less cold when you have wet hair and you took off all your layers to prevent them from getting shampoo on them.  I ruin my nice comb job by promptly stuffing my hat back on my head.

Cold "shower"
  • Macaroni and cheese for dinner!!  They have some kind of fabulous local cheese that we’ve been eating, the deliciousness makes up for the risk of eating dairy.
  • Our Utah friends came to hang out in the warm mess tent.  Theirs is freezing since the rain flaps don’t zip all the way.  It’s a bring-your-own-chair kind of deal, but we manage to fit eight people in the tent.  The night started with a bunch of drug questions.  Diamox dosing clarification, followed by “how do you feel about Ambien?”  Dad’s mind was still on the Diamox and he answered, “well, you might wake up with a wet sleeping bag.”  They taught us a new card game.  I don’t want to brag about winning both hands…who’m I kidding, I love to brag.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Pole Pole

  • Pretty low-key day at the Mount Meru Hotel: amazing breakfast, gorgeous view, reading by the pool.  Hosea stops by to do a gear-check and a mountain briefing.  There are three rules on the mountain- eat enough, drink enough, and pole pole (slowly). 

  • Last morning of civilization for a while; spent the early morning hours staring at the ceiling waiting for the clock to read 6:30.  Watched Laura fall out of bed when the wake-up call interrupted the silence.  Apparently that pager-response instinct runs pretty deep.  Hoping the worst injury we have is a bruised neck.
  • Peter gives us some lessons in Tanzanian culture on our drive to the Machame gate.  Despite the many different tribes that inhabit Tanzania, tribalism has been pretty much absent since the first president took over in 1961.  He made a concentrated effort to integrate the tribes via a version of affirmative action- busing kids to different cities to attend school with other tribes, forcing adults to work in other areas once they were done with school, etc.  Peter’s wife is from a different tribe and he says their family essentially trumps the tribes.  Unfortunately, clouds cover the sky and obstruct our view of the mountain as we approach the gate.
  • The gate is madness.  Buses and vans everywhere, dropping off wide-eyed tourists while porters start grabbing bags and running off to weigh them.  I can only hope that the porters who took our bags are with Kiliwarriors.  
Ready to go
  • Our Utah friends from the Amsterdam airport are waiting at the gate too.  Michelle (who goes by Mitchell—crazy!), her husband Peter, Peter’s sister Mary and her husband Steve.  We joke about drinking enough water, the adequacy of our gear (our Mary can’t get her gaiters on), and the groups around us.  A French group has custom t-shirts that say Kilimondjar on the back.  I turn to Mitchell in mock concern, “Someone needs to tell them they’re on the wrong mountain!”
  • The wait stretches well past the hour mark.  Hosea says something is wrong with his card (the credit card he’s using to pay the park fees).  Mary wants to pay cash and forego the tips at the end of the week.  The delay does give all of us the chance to use a real bathroom one last time.
  • Finally on the trail.  Pole pole really means pole pole.  Dad keeps rushing past Efata, our assistant guide (nicknamed Shanta for future references) who spends the early hiking teaching us some Swahili and explaining that having 4 daughters is good, because when you give away your daughter’s hand in marriage, it’s worth 40 cows.  Lots of jokes ensue.  Shanta’s wife’s name is Mary and his daughter is Michelle—lots of name coincidences thus far.  First view of the summit reminds us why this journey will take a week.
The summit is there, look through the trees
  • Lunch gives us a glimpse of what our week will be like, and reaching the first campsite confirms that we will indeed be “glamping” (glamour camping).  Mess tent with backed chairs, tons of fresh food, bathroom tent (which is good, because the first 8 hours of today, the Diamox hit me 6 times), cupcakes.  First pulse ox = 98%, HR = 89.
The mess tent

Friday, October 5, 2012

Just to Get There

Excerpts from my journal, starting on the ride to the airport.  I'll try to post a couple days' worth every couple days.  (*when I say "excerpts," I really mean my shorthand notes expanded after the fact)

  • Don’t worry, it took us until 0430 on the way to the airport to start our list of things we forgot to pack.  So far, just my Dad leaving behind his “verso l’alto” bracelet and his cake gel (in case he has a seizure and goes hypoglycemic).  A quick text to Laura took care of the latter.
  • Our layover in the Detroit airport was spent making sure Laura no longer looked like a ghost (puking and nearly passing out during the landing can be fun) and finding motion-sickness meds for Mary and I.  I opted for the dimenhydranate but Mary insisted on meclizine because she thinks she has vertigo.  Fortunately, Detroit’s airport is nothing if not conducive to travelers needing drugs.  Legal drugs.
  • We are officially out of contact with home, landing in Amsterdam after a long flight made more bearable by frequent food and a wide array of TV and movies.  I got really excited about the “My first Dutch lesson” t-shirt that had pictures of a house, a cow, a car, etc, with the corresponding Dutch word underneath.  Then I realized they were for kids and the largest they had was a size 11-12.  Adults can learn Dutch too!
  • At our gate, waiting for our flight to JRO, it’s not hard to pick out those who are climbing the mountain versus those going on safari.  And of course, a whole bunch of people in jeans—no idea why they would be flying to a tiny airport at the base of Kilimanjaro.  We met a fun family from Utah who happens to be climbing the Machame route as well.
  • Flight to JRO was miserable; sat next to a sick lady who kept coughing all over, and thanks to my wonderful Dramamine, I slept through the hot towels, ice cream, and last round of drinks.  Boo!  The massive deplaning down the stairs straight onto the tarmac, paired with the giant Kilimanjaro sign, makes up for the flight a little.  We are finally in Africa!
  • Got a little freaked out waiting for our luggage as two other travelers had the exact same red, green, and yellow REI duffel that I thought was so unique and identifiable.  Flashback to landing in Barcelona and realizing that some moron from Pennsylvania walked off with my look-alike bag.  Not to worry, all bags are accounted for and we meet Hosea and Peter who will drive us to our hotel.
  • Driving in Tanzania is interesting, as I was forewarned.  Was expecting the crazy passing and the left-side driving, but was more than slightly amused by Peter’s exclusive use of the right turn signal.  Moving into the right lane? Right turn signal.  Back into the left lane? Right turn signal.  Hilarious!
  • Our hotel is 5-star by Tanzanian standards and is pretty much a first-class oasis in the middle of poverty-stricken Arusha.  Aside from not being able to figure out the lights and realizing our shower doesn’t have a curtain or a door, we are very pleased with the accommodations.  Hosea is surprised when we refuse a meal and opt for our beds.  More than 10 hours of sleep prove we made the right decision.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

From Ambien and Diamox to Giant Senecio

It would take days to write down my thoughts and process everything about our trip, so I’ve decided that I’ll do a sort of highlight reel, followed by a couple excerpts from each day’s journal entries.  So, to start you off, I present my Kilimanjaro Top Ten (in no particular order):
  • Sunrise on Summit Day- when you’re struggling to breathe somewhere in the vicinity of -10 degrees and 19,000 feet, about the only thing that can rapidly improve things is the sun peaking over the horizon (the “horizon” here being the clouds) to begin warming and brightening the day.  Before the sun came up, I was sure I would never be warm again, and I hadn’t completely ruled out fainting from nausea and lack of caloric intake.  Once the sun rose, all was going to be right with the world.

A most welcome sight
  •  Utah- we met the most fabulous people at the Amsterdam airport who just happened to be climbing our same route.  It was pretty easy to pick out the hikers at our gate.  You know, flying directly to JRO, hiking boots, internal frame backpack, etc = immediate conversation starter.  Mary, Steve, Peter and Michelle (who happened to go by Mitchell, I kid you not) were from Utah, brother and sister plus spouses, and they were one of the best things that could have happened to our trip.  After meeting at the airport and running into them again at Machame Gate, they took it upon themselves to come find us at campsites to decompress from the day, play cards, ask medication questions, and so on.  Even with the nausea, backaches, and exhaustion, they made every day more tolerable.  We even ran into them just below the summit on Day 6, and as sad as this may seem, that was the highlight of the morning.  Not reaching the top, not the sunrise, but hearing Mary near tears yelling, “You guys!!!” and joking about Mary’s (our Mary) George Washington hat.  Fabulous people, unexpected blessing.
L to R: our Mary, their Mitchell, Peter, Steve, their Mary, Laura
  •  Africa- ok, big duh, we did all of this halfway around the world on another continent.  But one of the coolest parts of the trip was getting to experience so much of Tanzania without ever leaving the mountain.  We got to learn some of the culture (thanks to Peter, our chauffeur to and from the airport), some of the language, some of the plant life, the climate zones, the economic state, and we even got to see monkeys!  I am grateful for this brief glimpse into a radically different way of life.
  • Family time- Until the last day, when exhaustion and me stepping on Mary’s trekking poles threatened the carefully maintained harmony, we actually had an entire trip of good family time.  When you are forced to share all your meals, your sleeping tents, your hiking time, your joys and especially your struggles (way too many conversations about bathroom topics), you will either be at each others’ throats or grow significantly closer.  I’m grateful that by and large, we seemed to do the latter.  
  • Successful summit- since the whole point of the trip was to obtain a picture of the four of us at the Uhuru Peak sign at the highest point in Africa, reaching this goal has to be a highlight.  It was not pretty, by any means, but we got it done.  There were many times along the way that I wasn’t sure we would all make it, including up to a couple hours before the summit when I was thinking, “how much do you have to not be able to breathe before you consider it a serious problem?”  Looking back, I consider success to be as much our safety and health as our summit.  Not having to make use of one of the emergency helipads on the mountain is a victory in my book.
On top of Africa, Zapapi FTW
  • Laughter- you guys, Mary was ON this trip.  Like, nailing-every-joke-opportunity on.  Between her snarky retorts and the joking of our guides and cake-eater comments from Utah, laughter was certainly abundant.  Which is good, because otherwise, tears might have been the emotional response of choice (I’m pretty sure I was the only Zapapi who cried; I don’t think my comments thus far would inspire anyone to do this).  
  • Prayer- mostly my intentions for this trip were our safety and success, but given the nature of each day, I had plenty of time for other prayers as well.  My daily rosary was offered up for a variety of friends and family, and there was plenty of suffering to offer up.  It’s been a while since daily prayer was a relevant part of my life, so getting back to that habit was very fruitful.
  • Kiliwarriors- it’s hard to put into words the sacrificial and generous nature of our team.  Twenty-six people serving us in so many ways, figuratively carrying us to the top.  Hosea, Shanta, Masta, Emmanuel, Julius and so many others, just giving of themselves.  They were joyful servants in every sense of the words, and we couldn’t have done it without them.
The amazing Kiliwarriors present us with our summit certificates
  • Toilet tent- I’m not going to go into detail here, but let’s just say that by day three, I would have given up and turned around if we didn’t have our own toilet tent.  Kiliwarriors was the first outfitter on the mountain to provide this service twenty years ago, and it’s become the norm for the higher-end companies.  If you are going to climb Kilimanjaro, do not do so unless your guide company has a toilet tent.  Between the Diamox and the havoc that new foods wreaked on my GI tract, it was a comfort that made the miserable a little more bearable.
  • Sleeping in my own bed- It’s kind of lame to end a top ten list of Kilimanjaro with the return home, but after 6 nights in a sleeping bag and another 40 or so hours of airplanes and airports, a full night’s sleep in my own bed felt glorious.

So, there you have it.  There were many other positives from the trip, and I’m sure you can gather from my commentary that there were many difficulties as well.  Sometime in the next couple days, I’ll look through my journal and write up a couple snapshots from the day-to-day adventures.  Until then, tutaonana!
I reserve the right to make this blog as worthless to read as I feel like, and also to write as infrequently as I deem necessary. Just thought I'd let you know since I finally decided to share my blog.