The Real Reason I’m Crap at Travel Blogging

Lately I’ve been feeling a gnawing sense of guilt surrounding all the communications elements of my travels. Between a travel blog which is now trailing behind my feet by over a year and the gargantuan, ever-lengthening list of red-flagged emails…I feel I’m being slowly frog-marched into a communications oblivion of my own construction.

As I sit musing on how best to spend the remainder of my evening (keep watching The Thick Of It until I fall asleep in front of the laptop, finish that Kilimanjaro blog upload, drive myself further to insanity through knitting, send the urgent email to the travel insurance company or actually reply to some personal emails) I think of the emails and the travel blog and roll my eyes at the predictable, involuntary groan they conjure.

I began this travel blog just earlier this year. The original intention was twofold. 1) I can keep people at home updated on where I am/what I’m up to nice and efficiently with lots of pretty pictures thrown in and thereby minimise time spent typing largely similar emails to answer largely similar questions. 2) To function as an external hard drive while my actual memory nips down to the post office to collect its pension. Now the plan was, I’d speedily upload the text from my Kilimanjaro journal (most of which was already nicely typed up into (relatively) legible prose), then write lots of interesting and exciting tales from the high seas of pirates, cannons and treacherous storms, all before heading out to wherever I would end up next – where I would dutifully keep an up-to-date and riveting blow-by-blow account of my latest adventure.

It has not worked out that way.

In place, there is a half-finished upload from Africa. Not one word from the ocean and no updates as yet from Iceland. My journal itself is not much better. The Kili journal ended the night we summited (although this was followed with a list of animal sightings on safari) … there wasn’t even an entry about that time my shoes were stolen by pirates. Only 12/42 days of the Transat gained diary entries. And these weren’t even the days when notable shenanigans or raging tempests took place. As for Iceland, in over four months there have been just 3 entries. One of them was written on the floor of St Pancras International before I’d even made it to the airport…the second was reprimanding the lack of diary writing. The third was a cunning ruse to talk about tea.

When it comes to keeping the journal, posting to the blog and replying to the emails from friends and family the reasons I usually state for being so sh*t at replying/updating within an acceptable time frame are a lack of time and energy. And those reasons are very true. I’m leading a lifestyle which is physically and psychologically demanding. When it comes to days off, if the weather is good I want to be out kayaking or foraging for treasure on the beach and if the weather is bad I want to be curling up with a duvet and slightly-worrying amounts of Jane Austen. When you finally get a few hours off, the last thing you want to be doing is sitting in front of the computer and enticing your brain to activate memory recall functions and translate them into some form of social interaction. (For this reason I will always champion Skype for it’s ability to remove the need for thinking about the words before hurling them all at some long-suffering friend).

Now, while all this is true, I’ve always had a suspicion that is isn’t the whole story. That ‘busy’ and ‘tired’ are really just cover-ups for a less-easily-digested truth. And I think I’ve finally figured out what it is. It is, quite simply, that some experiences are just too big. Some things are too difficult to break down into a blog post or an email reply. There aren’t words eloquent enough, aren’t words which ‘fit’, which do justice. And there are some experiences which no storyteller has the skill to help you understand what they were like if you were not there yourself. There are times when travel provides the catalyst you needed to realise something which you knew all along, forces you to learn something new or even to see something you should not have left behind along the way. There are times when you know your experiences are changing you – or simply showing you what you need to change. And these things make for a story whose truth and complexity I do not yet have the talent to tell.

Then there the experiences you should simply hold on to and treasure. These are the stories which I insist should never be written. They’re the stories of shoe-stealing-pirates, cannonballs and a marmalade mermaid on the moon. These stories must always wait for familiar voices, good beer and laughter.

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Near Port Alberni, Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada


The sound of unfurling spring blossoms drifts quietly through the air. Rain in the woodland, dragonflies flitting over the stream. The gentle tingling of bluebells. Quietly now. The sound of the bells blown in from a distance on the breeze. The chill of early spring hanging on the air as the bells and dragonfly wings fade in and out. A little louder. Harder to miss now. The dragonflies beat their wings more vigorously as the morning slowly marches on. Calmly insistent. Knowing time is on their side and, sooner or later, I will turn my attention to their display.



Cherry blossoms drift past me in the breeze. Coolly dancing over my skin. A dragonfly swooshes by overhead, and comes to rest by my ear. Or is it a woodland nymph? Perhaps a fairy. Dancing lightfooted across the water. Her dress trailing ever-so-softly over the lilies.

Until she realises her mistake. So caught up in joy at the dawning of a bright new day in that pretty little head of hers. This is not the enchanted brook where the dragonflies flit carelessly over the cool, benevolent water. She has drifted into the bog.

The lilies turn to pond slime and cling to the hem of her gown. Pulling her down toward the water. Dragging herself up the bank she claws at the sides, tossing and turning to shake off the slithy toves that tug at her ankles, pulling her harshly toward the cold and uninviting water. She looks into my eyes, calls to me across the water. Her rising voice tells me there isn’t much time left. I have to hurry.

Screw her. I turn my gaze away from her plight, back to where the bluebells are still softly chiming among the distant trees.



The enchanted forest isn’t so bad. I hit dismiss one final time and resign myself to my fate. It could be that damned duck. Its hard to feel kindly disposed toward ducks when you’ve been conditioned to see them as personification – perduckification – of sleep deprivation.

Lets try that sentence again.

Its hard to feel kindly disposed toward ducks when you’ve been conditioned to see them as a walking-squawking representation of sleep deprivation.

The abrupt, painful interruption of that harsh, abrasive quacking. Or the slow and gentle torture of the sounds of spring.


Four minutes. There’s movement outside the door. Andrea is up and about and I’m still cocooned tightly in my duvet, willing the cold air and responsibilities to dissolve into sleep. The dogs run up and down the stairs over my head. Scratching at the floor tiles as they did all night long. The boiler kicks in again and seems to thunder through the early morning silence.

New town, new room, new bed, new noises in the night. Gone is the traffic murmuring through North Vancouver. The warmth of another body in the bed. The sound of that god damned duck every morning. Replaced by a constant low drone whose origins I can’t quite pinpoint. The sudden thundering of the boiler through the wall. My phone abruptly demanding my attention again and again, refusing to allow the day to end. Cold feet beneath a mountain of blankets. The circus of cats and dogs bedding down for the night. I’ve barely slept. But there’s no more avoiding it. A girl can’t be late on the first day. That just wouldn’t do.

I roll decisively out of bed and snatch up the dressing gown, draping it over my shoulders like a cape as my protesting muscles wade through the cold air to the pile of clothes I left out on the chair the night before. Scrolling through Facebook posts oozing lovehearts and lingerie I pull my dressing gown tight for warmth as I dress. Old underwear. The bra with the knackered elastic. Its valentine’s day….But I doubt the sheep will be offended if the girls aren’t looking their best. If I swap the stockings and heels for the thick fleece leggings, combats and spotty wellies. Drag my sleep-ruffled hair back ungracefully into a stark and practical bun and head out to face the world without even glancing in a mirror. The sheep won’t care what I look like, as long as I deliver the food, its all the same to them, right?

Its a stark contrast. 6am alarm. Up. Shower. Wash hair. Exfoliate. Kettle. Moisturise. Blow dry. Eye liner. Smudge, wipe, replace. Mascara. Concealer. Foundation. Lipstick. All while the tea steadily turns lukewarm. The pencil skirt or the suit trousers with the matching jacket. The white shirt and the last minute dive for the iron on the floor. There’s no time for the board. The half empty cup of tea is near cold as I pull on the shoes. Muddy again. They need re-heeling soon. But then there’s minimum wage and the promise of adventures in far off lands. Wolf down a bowl of cereal, throw some fruit in a bag, grab umbrella and dash out the door. I’ll wipe the mud off my shoes on the bus. Smooth everything out. Brush the weather from my hair. Then glide through another foyer. Find another tea room. Another desk. They’re all the same. A different office every day but almost always the same. Only the faces change and sometimes you get lucky with their owners. Other days….well, bring a book. You’ll be relying on yourself for intellectual stimulation today. 8am. Brush hair. Again. Check makeup. Fix smile. Sit up straight. Look approachable. Wait for the phone to ring.

This must be a new record. Bed to work in four minutes. Time to find out what this new world has in store. Excitement, hesitation and drowsiness mingle. I steel myself against the rain and the cold, and stride out into my first dark morning at Cottonwood.


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Kilimanjaro – The Climb – Day 2

10th September

The original journal entry:

Really tough. *Censored bit*. Nausea. Macho amazing. Steep rock climbs. Better after jaffa cakes. Shira camp. Caves. Sunset. Silhouette mountains. Kibo in the morning. Trees. Good hot choc. Milky way. Intro with porters. Moss fire swamp trees. Elation at camp view. Clouds down below. Clouds down below. Camera broke. Barely ate anything. Forced a cereal bar. Dodgy toilet at lunch. Bird catching things. Kisses in the sunset with wife. Dancing with Gabrielle. Seriously wanted to quit for a lot of today. Was so hard feeling ill. But could not bear the disappointment of dropping out from others. Feel so much better at camp. Pretty cold now. Feeling altitude a bit. No sleep last night (3 days). 8hrs tomorrow to Lava Tower, then down to Barrancco camp. Emotionally tough day. Climbed with Ads. Nervous for tomorrow. Stole some astrophysics from wife. Amaze views of sunset behind misty Shira. I think I can do this. But man am I scared.


Ok…so this is where the memory is getting sketchy. The illness is setting in and the memory and journal entries suddenly become more unreliable than normal. Which is saying something, lets be honest.

For the record, I just sat down in the pub to write this and I’m getting so much bant from the drunk old boy next to me. Perhaps not as productive a setting as anticipated…. Entertaining though. Pub tables are at an awkward height to type at. Anyway…I digress.

We were roused somewhere around 6am. I hadn’t slept (for the third night in a row). I felt like sh*t. I was packed off to Evarest to confess my premature illness and discuss his recommended treatment. Illness and the associated remedies get weird at altitude, so we have to seek the advice of the guide team. I had already established before leaving the tent that the immodium I had DEFINITELY bought and packed was nowhere to be found in my bags. Silly pixies. (I still haven’t found it, so it was clearly stolen by the pixies…the same ones who hide odd socks…). So I had the joy of being shuffled into the breakfast tent (where everyone else was already feasting on the most amazing scrambled eggs and some….porridge….ish) with Evarest who loudly asks the whole group, over breakfast, whether anyone has any immodium. Some of these people I haven’t even had a conversation with yet. What a way to break the ice. This was one of those rare ‘wishing-the-ground-would-open-up’ moments. Luckily a lovely young man (I hope he doesn’t read that…) hastened to the rescue and the day’s walk was made far more bearable. But everyone was absolutely lovely – everyone kept an eye on each other and several people were checking on how I was feeling at every opportunity. I remember Joe being very lovely and concerned. Suspicious in hindsight.

Total food consumed this morning? About half a slice of toast and a hot chocolate. Only the weak require sustenance to climb a mountain.


Walking from Macheme to Shira

When we woke this morning we had a first clear-sky view of Kibo. It was slightly less intimidating than in the half-light and shifting cloud the night before.

Today we would walk to Shira camp. The dust was one of the most memorable things about this day! I mean…there is dust…and then there is Kili. Blimey. Today’s climb was up through the moorland, and was mostly up along steep, rocky paths. The first stretch was ridiculously steep (or at least, having not yet experienced the gradient of what was still to come…it felt ridiculously steep). A lot of this was across smooth or stepped rock surfaces (interspersed with dust). You’ll see in the pictures views of us pouring with sweat and out of breath….then notice the porters behind us….and the sheer amount they are carrying. These guys leave camp quite a while after us, overtake us within a mile and beat us to the next camp with enough time to get the tents up and have dinner almost cooked. There were a surprising number of female porters. A few of the group seemed very surprised about this  and asked quite a lot of questions (many being motherhood related) – I confess it wasn’t something I was expecting either!

The path wound up across another couple of ridges, and for the first time we could trace the path we were headed along by the trail of climbers snaking along the mountainside. Our hill climbing expenditure was rewarded with stunning vistas each time we stopped to catch our breath and look around. We could see Mt Meru off in the distance, poking out of a sea of cloud. It may have just been my addled brain, but the vegetation reminded me of the trees in the Fire Swamp (shame on you if this reference is lost on you).


The view from the trail

I don’t remember an awful lot of this morning – I was already in a pretty bad way. My head was pounding, I was exhausted, I was running on empty and I felt like I was going to throw up even when after drinking water (silly nuun tablets didn’t help…).

This day I became acquainted with macho. He was stuck to my side like glue. I have a sneaking suspicion that Evarest had put him under orders to keep an eye on me. Either that or I looked about as bad as I felt (probable). Within  a couple of hours the only things running through my head were how I wasn’t going to make it to Shira, let alone Kibo, and I just wanted to turn back already. I seem to vaguely remember some singing. We had a pit stop a couple of hours in, which came in a little clearing immediately after a short steep scramble up a bluff. There was a big boulder on top which most people were climbing up to for the view. I collapsed as soon as I made the clearing. I forced a cereal bar and some water, and Macho lifted my bag up, scowled at me for carrying too much weight (de ja vu, Greg?), and started bailing things out of my bag and into mine. Our group on day twoIronically I think what was weighing it down was the food I wasn’t eating.

Our group on day two

Lunch was spent on a big clearing in a slight valley , where the most horrible toilet (possibly in the world) was located. Most of the huts on the mountain were ok….this one was really, truly beyond foul. I won’t go into detail. But if you ever climb the macheme route and see the loo pictured….steer clear. The couple sitting near our group were on a bizzarely luxurious trip. They had a table and chairs set up for them!!! And about three courses, including hot soup, for lunch! We were treated to a show from the local birdlife, diving down to pinch food from the tourists. I seem to recall drinking some mango juice and falling asleep on a rock. You don’t realise how cold it is until you stop moving! I also remember being nagged to eat by Ros and the porters. And almost throwing up at the prospect.

How I made the next few miles I really don’t know. Physically, I was a wreck this day. Mentally, I really, really struggled. I felt so unwell that all I wanted was to do was to turn around and go back to Arusha. But I couldn’t stomach the  thought of the ‘non-judgemental’ looks of condolence I’d get from the boys if I didn’t make it up this damn hill. Especially after the West Highlands. Failure was not an option as far as my pride was concerned. Macho really helped. Everytime I was struggling to pull myself up a rock he was at my elbow, giving me a shove. I was at the front of the group with Ads for most of the way at lunch. I was missioning it because I needed to be closer to the next camp, closer to the sleeping bag, and not at the back playing catch-up. There was one very fun stretch, not long before we hit Shira, when the guides took our poles and we were scrambling up what was possibly the equivalent of a mountain-goat path – hauling ourselves up steep, narrow rocky bits. Once we reached the top of this we could see the camp, and it was a gentle downhill to reach it. I cannot describe the elation I felt on seeing this camp! The end was nigh! (Ignore the fact that we still have several more days of this). I pretty much flew down this slope to meet Gabrielle, throw my daysack into the tent and collapse with relief. It is probably a testament to what altitude can do to one’s head, but I felt instantly so much better on reaching the camp.



A combination of the relief of the day’s walk being over, the prospect of sleeping and the unbelievable views suddenly fixed my internal melodrama enough that I was able to eat something. And it is amazing how much better two squashed jaffa cakes can make a girl feel. Finally irrefutable proof that chocolate fixes all problems. In hindsight I think I was on some kind of weird euphoric high on making it to that camp. I had been so sure I wouldn’t make it that the relief was more than palpable.

After chilling out for a while we were taken over to see the Shira caves. These weren’t exactly what we’d expected! We were anticipating a short walk (20-30 mins or so) out to a cave system. It was actually five minutes to one little cave hiding in the rocks! But it was still worth the visit. This cave was one of the places where the guides and porters used to sleep before the welfare of the climbing teams became more regulated and they had to sleep in tents.

There is a sign up at the cave forbidding people from sleeping in it. We were hurried back over to the camp to meet our team. The sky was still clear at this point, and the views phenomenal. I’d guess that the majority of my photos were taken here….including my favourite one when a tiny bird landed on the plant I was photographing. Bloody exhibitionists!


Say ‘cheese’!

Meeting the team was an incredible experience. Ahhh…someone in the pub just shouted ‘oooh an aubergine’. They were all assembled (all 53ish) by the camp and singing some of the traditional songs of Kili. The Kilimanjaro song (which seems to be a general song sung with different lyrics all over Tanzania depending on what you are doing…but always including ‘hakuna matata’) was stuck in most people’s heads for days…I don’t know if it was just me who failed entirely to grasp 90% of the lyrics. We were introduced to the whole team based on their ‘department’ – ie cooks, guides, porters,  water fetchers etc. 53 of them to get the 20 of us up the mountain! They all came round and greeted each of us in turn, some with handshakes, some with hugs and most with high fives. Then we were joining in singing with them and all dancing together…I had a nice little dance with Gabrielle (it was a little awkward / weird – but I had his hat to make small talk over!).

Some of the evening’s fun can be seen here:

We passed the rest of the time until dinner buggering about at camp taking about a billion photos each at sunset. This was a pretty amazing sunset. It reached number two in my favourite sunsets ever. Number one was on a very odd Wednesday evening in Northern Ireland overlooking the ocean. Impressive photographic evidence available on request. This night the sun sank down behind ‘the Cathedral’ – all that is left of the sides of Shira, the oldest (and lowest) of Kili’s three volcanic cones.

Shira Sunset

You couldn’t really ask for a more spectacular spot to camp. There was a thick sea of cloud miles down below us in the valley, with Meru peeking through in the distance and Kibo was lit up beautifully in the last few minutes of daylight before the sun sank behind the Cathedral, leaving the jaggard peaks in shadow and mist. Misty mountain! Yay!

   After dinner (I made another fairly lacking attempt at eating) it was pitch black outside and the milkyway was even brighter than the night before. Miss Farrow got a bit upset when I jumped in to answer Joe’s question about said pretty lights in the sky. I shouldn’t steal the astrophysics from the scientist.

Looking toward Mt Meru

Looking toward Mt Meru

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Kilimanjaro – The Climb – Day 1

9th September

 The original journal entry:

Clouds part to reveal the majestic terror of Kibo. The stars. The Milky Way. *Censored bit*. Uh oh.

Farrow and Powell bickering. Thatcher vetoes. Talking to Ros about poo. Steep steps. Grandfather’s beard…on a porter = best hat. Saw the mountain first. AMAZING FERNS. And vines. And stuff. French service loos. Sunset. Lava Tower in mist. WOW. Banana trees. Silly games. Warm in my sleeping bag. Nausea. Brain swelling. Legs fine. Macheme camp. 3,000m. snowy Kibo. Squashed banana. No rain J. Good courgette soup. Should take more pics. 9pm. Wake at six. Want sleep. Tolkien first. Sinuses better. Porters spoil you. Spotted the mountain first. Too late for Tolkien. Blue monkey dinner. 3 inch mozzies! Dusty boots! African raspberries?


“There are six official trekking routesby which to climb Mt Kilimanjaro, namely: Marangu, Rongai, Lemosho, Shira, Umbwe and Machame. Of all the routes, Machame is by far the most scenic albeit steeper route up the mountain, which can be done in six or seven days” (Wiki).

The scenery did not disappoint. (Nor did the gradient).

It was about a two hour dive to the base of the mountain, passing through much of the same scenery as the day before. We stopped off at ‘the supermarket’ on the road…the last chance to stock up on high energy snacks. And the first fairly questionable loos. This is the point at which the facial expressions of numerous girls in the group are an indication of struggles to come, and I smile quietly to myself. (Although perhaps I smirked too soon). This is where the Kili hats were purchased. I discovered that my sun lotion was, in fact, UV paint. *Scowls at a certain sod for stealing her good lotion…my leaving it in your car is soooo not justification!*. A few more men (guides and porters) hopped onto the already crowded bus and we drove the last short way packed in like sardines and fated to endure the Kilimanjaro quiz with Student Adventures’ ‘man on the ground’. There were some highly disgruntled faces with raised eyebrows and ‘seriously?’ looks. It was a little cringe. But seductively entertaining. For as long as I was getting the answers correct…

I spotted the vague impression of a shadow in the sky. But I had imagined seeing the mountain the day before (it was, in fact, a field in the distance…), so resolved to gaze suspiciously in the direction of what was probably a cloud and a trick of the light and not jump up and down ecstatically. Then “By the way guys, the mountain is just over there”. YES! I could not, and still cannot fathom the subdued nonchalance of my comrades at this point. Surely I am not the only one prone to jumping up and down like a six year old girl at Disney Land? Life is more fun when you jump up and down a lot. Although I imagine no amount of jumping up and down would make Disney Land fun. Humbug!

We turned off the main road and down a little side track with a wooden sign pointing left to ‘Macheme’. Given that it was completely overcast, we saw nothing but a very vague impression of the lower slope through the cloud, so without ever seeing the mountain we found ourselves winding up the lower slopes. This was the first lush and green area we’d really seen in Africa. Hurrah for volcanic fertility. What a perfect name for a terrible chick flick novella. There are a lot of small villages up here. The road is lined with banana plantations on either side, dotted with small café’s and schools. Kids in uniform are running up and down in their droves along the roadside, smiling and waving at the tourist vans heading up the trail. They are hunting chocolate!

At Macheme Gate

Adam at Macheme Gate

The gate was a strange place. Just outside, there is a huge crowd. This is a mix of porters and guides hopping off their buses and arranging their kit, and locals hawking their wares. But the latter aren’t allowed within the gates, so they form a semi-circle around it, parting as the vehicles come through to then fill the gaps again instantly. When we disembark the van and head over to the office to register, we’re warned to keep our distance from the gate so as not to upset the locals selling on the road.

We seemed to spend an age at the gate while the guide team divvied up our bags, re-bagged and weighed them. We took many obligatory photos. Some of the boys seemed to get interviewed on camera for something. Curious. We were provided with our lunch, which necessitated the re-organising of almost everyone’s day sacks, and two litres of water to decant into our own containers. Farrow and I had purchased nuun tablets for the water. Should have taste tested these before putting them in the hydration bladder. Other activities at this point involved the adjusting of straps, plastering of sun lotion, pulling up of truly sexy socks (I don’t care what anyone says, they are things of beauty), tightening of boot laces, nervous glances up into the trees, perusal of warning signs, taking of pictures and enjoying of the last homely loos (sadly sans Hugo Weaving). Hiding things in the airflow system at the back of Ros’ rucksack is a fun game. My camera broke. I fixed it with gaffa tape. Wrapping stores of gaffa around all available items is my new favourite hiking thing.

After a long while we were on our way….Walking up the slope of the small car park we passed a woman in a hut with some scales, weighing all the hiking rucksacks, and joined the ranks of porters and other tourists through the gates on the far side of the tarmac and on to the harsh wilderness of Kilimanjaro!

This first stretch was a pretty wide and well kept dirt track, and very crowded! Day one on Macheme is through the rainforest and onto the moorland. We got lucky…no rain! The trails were fairly dry, which was nice as it minimised arse-over-tit situations.  The trail started to climb but was fairly level for an hour or so. After walking for a short while, the crowds at the gate had thinned out and Evarest stopped us to introduce us to the rest of the guides. These are the guys who were going to get us up the mountain. Among them was Macho (Swahili for ‘eyes’), so called because his eyes were so good, and he knew the mountain so well, that he could see the plants growing. This is the man who would get me to the top, as I would begin to understand the next day.

Enjoying the rainforest

Bearded moss grew on everything in the rainforest. And cor….there were some good trees! There were huge tree ferns (this was another jumping up and down moment), Eucalyptus and Camphors. The Camphor trees are fairly ginormous. They have huge trunks, splitting down into massive roots, many with large arches and caves in them that you could easily fit people in. Like a good Kentish oak, but more fun on account of the attribute of being ‘exotic’, which is a distinct advantage. Apparently we had some walking to do though, so I couldn’t stay tree hugging all day.

Within a couple of hours the going got pretty steep. The mud track wound its way up through the rainforest and was interspersed with rudimentary steps cunning fashions from tree branches so as to function as steps and as drainage channels for the path. It is single or double file most of the way here and when the trees opened up for a time we could see down into the valleys on either side of the ridge we were walking. Somehow there was cloud beneath us already, although I for one cannot place a time when we walked through any. Sneaky clouds.

Farrow and I had our first opportunity to Shewee together. This was an important step in our relationship and took an awful lot of explaining. There were some inquisitive if uncertain enquiries from some of the other girls (if I remember rightly a couple had beaten us to it, the shame!), and most of the blokes were diligently ignoring the issue like good British gents.

Five minute stops were had about every hour…they never seemed to last long enough and were characterised by taking off one’s rucksack to be almost impressed at the quantity of

sweat dripping from one’s back. I was very pleasantly surprised at the holding up of joints. Given some of the steeply stepped areas on this day I was expecting my knees to have the paintbrushes poised over placards with Unison on speed dial. Naturally, my knee had caved on me two days before we flew out and spent a while strapped up…so I was bracing myself for some nastiness in that department. But they were almost suspiciously well behaved, for which I will be eternally grateful. Yay!


The mossy rainforest

The rainforest suddenly disappeared. One moment we were in a rainforest….and then in a dense moorland scrub. The edge of the moorland was pretty thick vegetation, but it was more bush-like, although still tall, and still covered in bearded moss. One of our guides disappeared into a bush and came back sporting a most excellent green, frilly beard.

One important thing to note about this trip. My wife…big leftie. Phil…Thatcher-lover. Both…stubborn. Goodness….the bickering. I have no doubt that I’ll get in trouble for calling it bickering. I am assured that it was in fact good-natured debating. Definitely bickering. However I think this kept them going. To be honest…I was quite enjoying listening. And staying very resolutely out of it (mostly). Among this and other entertainments on today’s walk was one of the most tenacious and lengthy games of I-Spy I have ever had the privilege to witness. ‘Calves’….good shout.

Macheme Camp Marker

Macheme Camp Marker

Machame camp wasn’t far from the edge of the rainforest. We shortly came up on loads of clearings in the trees filled with tents. This is when we really started to experience dust. Almost as soon as we were out of the rainforest the hardened mud trails gave way to dust.

Shira cathedral from Macheme Camp

Shira cathedral from Macheme Camp

The registration hut (you sign in each day when you reach the camp, helps with the admin on the body count) was at the top end of the camp (more a collection of lots of little camps) and elevated up by a gap in the bushes, opening up into one of the most stunning views.

This camp is fractionally under 3,000m up – the point at which we’re warned that altitude sickness begins! It took around 6 hours – or so I’m told…time was already a concept lost on me by this point. When we got down to our tents we met our porters for the first time by the ingenious method of finding your hiking rucksack (mostly resting on tufts of grass to keep them out of the dust) and the man attached to it. My porter was a lovely young man called Gabrielle. (Not Gabriel). Out of all the porters…he had the best hat. Rosalind’s porter was a chap called Jaffar. They were both very lovely and grabbed out bags and carried them over to the tent. Then there was some guilt from us girls as they insisted on getting our roll matts out for us and inflating them. After a short while we were all delivered a bowl of warm water to wash with – a highly unexpected luxury!

While waiting for dinner we were treated with popcorn and tea in the mess tent. I will never be mean to popcorn again. I will…because I dislike popcorn….but daily popcorn was one of the things that got me up this mountain. And it was splendiferous. What…no autocorrect? Is that actually a word? Gosh. Who knew! Anyway.

Sunset from Macheme Camp

Sunset from Macheme Camp

Before dinner we dived out of the tent to run up to the registration hut and watch the sunset. Unfortunately the pictures don’t quite speak for themselves. It was more phenomenal in truth. At the time I thought what we were looking out at was the lava tower (ha, not nearly high enough!) – we were actually looking out toward Shira, in the direction we would walk tomorrow.

Running up the few hundred yards to the hut was the first time Farrow felt the altitude – running was a struggle! We both had headaches coming on by this point, and I was already feeling nauseous.

Our first glimpse of Kibo peak

Our first glimpse of Kibo peak

On the way back to dinner we were treated with something spectacular – our first view of Kibo. The cloud cleared and we stood, fairly dumbfounded, staring up at our doom. As dooms go, it was really rather pretty. We dragged everyone else out of the mess tent to come and get scared sh*tless with us. Despite the terror and inner monologue shouting “there is no way in hell I’m getting up that f*cker”, this was one of the most beautiful and moving sights I’ve so far seen. Terrifying, but amazing. It was one of the first moments where the realisation hit home of what we were about to attempt, and the first time I really believed that I might not be able to make it up there. Sorry…wet moment over.

Courgette soup is one of the enduring memories of this day. Mmmmmm. Then we got fed a huge main course with roast potatoes! These guys are up a mountain, at low altitude, catering for about 70 people, and we’re getting multiple courses and roast potatoes! We were all fairly amazed. Puts my camping cooking to shame (except when its fresh from the sea!). Evarest managed to convince Joe that the meat was blue monkey. Turns out it isn’t hard to convince Joe of much 😉

Unfortunately, this was the last meal I ate (well…half ate) thanks to the Impala Hotel (and the altitude, let’s be fair). Turns out, I’d got food poisoning (I believe from watered-down fruit juice) from the Hotel. And it was beginning to set in. Half way through dinner, feeling rather unwell, I bailed out to the highly sophisticated toilet facilities where I spent much of the sleepless night after a short but pleasant interlude writing my journal in a wonderfully snug sleeping bag.

When the night set in, the stars were phenomenal.

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Kilimanjaro – Getting There – Part 2

 8th September – Day Two

We arrived into Nairobi at around 7am local time. We crossed the equator just after sunrise. It was fairly overcast below, but a few small rocky peaks and the occasional view of a lake appeared beneath at various intervals. Hello Great Rift Valley. More excitement on this front in about a week. It turns out that people speak the truth of speedy sunrises / sunsets at the equator. My stubborn (and somewhat eye-damaging) observations of said sunrise was short lived. It was pretty though…

Kenyatta International Airport. Feel free to roam across the tarmac while the fuel trucks and other vehicles whizz about. There was some good recycling bin signage. I was pleasantly surprised. If a little vexed at the idea of ‘Go green, choose blue’ as a slogan. So many immigration forms.

Two things I will say in favour of Egypt…

1)      they put visas in the correct pages of your passport. Kenya and Tanzania…just shove it somewhere in the middle. No thought to the use of pages in a consecutive manner. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t quite frustrated about this.

2)      Blokes out to provide their services while talentedly pilfering wallets and demanding tips in the same breath are obvious.

I won’t say we weren’t warned. ‘Beware the guys who will grab your bags and ask for a tip for carrying them’. Fair game. Only we’re expecting people at the baggage carousel, or outside the doors. These guys…they had their tactics down. Put on a suit, lurk around a mini-bus, and convince people you work for the tour company. So we all carried our bags outside, put them down next to the bus and suddenly we have a horde of blokes picking them up, passing them to our driver (who was on the roof, protesting) and then demanding substantial tips from all of us. It takes a few minutes for the whole group to cotton on to the abuse our driver is shouting at these guys, and the warnings directed at us.

We now had most of a day to look forward to in the minibus, driving from Nairobi, over the border and down into Tanzania, to Arusha. Bill boards around the airport are massive. And ooooh how I have missed the terror and entertainment of African drivers. The strange thing is, they are all clearly far more capable than most of us Westerners…they are just outright terrifying. There is no overtaking manoeuvre too risky. Even when the vehicle coming the other way is a fuel tanker. We’re travelling down one of the major routes so it is all surfaced road except a few patches where you’re diverted onto dirt tracks for road works. The roadsides are busy with people digging, herding livestock and trading – mostly sweet potatoes and shoes. When we get further out of the city it is mostly just miles of plains / scrubland in all directions. It is nearing the end of the dry season so everything is incredibly dusty, with fairly minimal green vegetation. There are a lot of low bushes and, to the surprise of my ignorance, a lot of succulents. There are cacti dotted here and there and aloes everywhere. A lot of this is cultivated to work as a form of landmarking / fencing around villages. And everywhere in the trees are these crazy little bundles of stick dangling down from the branches. I think they are nests. I am intrigued. They seem to be swarming on certain trees. Later, on Safari, our driver was able to oblige my curiosity – these are the nests of the Superb Starling, which had already, by that point, become my favourite African bird. Google disagrees with him. It says they are Weaver nests. Our guide’s reliability is now in question. Perhaps those large, big-eared grey quadrupeds weren’t Unicorns after all…

A Suberb Starling

There are kids herding cattle and goats everywhere. Many of the cows have become confused and seem to think they are camels. Every few miles or so there is a small town or a village, the buildings mercilessly festooned with red billboards on every other surface, proclaiming the life-enhancing wonders of Vodaphone and that fizzy brown drink which is good for cleaning pennies. But looking closer you can pick out the Massaai huts every so often, well camouflaged in the bushes, in between the bigger villages. There are an awful lot of people congregating with motorcycles outside the shops in most of the towns we pass. Lyness got a little indignant at not having seen any Kenyans run yet. That is what Kenyans do, yes? Run?

We stopped off for a few minutes just north of Tanzania for bathrooms / food / water / circulation revival (I discovered that sunset yellow still exists outside the UK…) before crossing the border at Namanga. There are an awful lot of forms to fill in. On the Kenyan side we hop out, head into the office and are done with a quick flash of the passport and handing over the form – unless your name is Phil, in which case you are clearly a dodgy character in need of fingerprinting. This was the first time we were really accosted by a small mob trying to sell us carvings of elephants. After visiting the Kenyan immigration office everyone has to pile back into the vehicle so we can drive 100 meters up the road, past the big gates and armed guards to the Tanzanian immigration office. In which many of us got rather upset about our innate inability to not form an orderly queue, regardless of how many times we got shafted. I thought I was doing well…I was almost at the head of the shortest queue. And then the officer at the desk wandered off with the passport of the bloke in front. It took a while for the realisation to sink in that this man was not coming back, and the other queues stretched half way back to Nairobi. Very Arthur Dent. Eventually…we were all stamped and fingerprinted (yay!) and the bus rolled over the border and into Tanzania.

Is anyone else worried that we are over 2,800 words and have only just arrived in Tanzania? I am…

The rest of the journey was much of the same. There were also dust tornadoes. Everywhere. I think I maybe the only person who did not get bored of them. There were also the Massaai death eaters…but we’ll get back to that on Safari. Oh and termite mounds too!

We did eventually arrive in Arusha. It was the largest town since we’d left Nairobi. Despite eager vigilance we had yet to see any evidence of this mountain which was allegedly lurking nearby. We could, however, see her sister mountain, Meru. We circled around Meru on our way into Arusha (there were a few ‘is that Kili’ comments…but, alas, this was a bit too small to be our mountain). Farrow and I were sharing a room quite a long way up. But the view of Meru right next door, half shrouded in cloud but with the jagged peak still lit up by the late afternoon sun was well worth the climb up the 8 flights of stairs. At least, it would have been if we hadn’t taken the lift.

Post long and dusty journey half of us were gathered at the pool faster than the speed of light. Here I must apologise to Ian Peter Skinner. I got thrown into a body of water by two infantile pain-in-the-arse young gentlemen…and you weren’t one of them. I’m sorry, my love. For the record, it was cold. And we discovered that Kilimanjaro, Tanzania’s premier larger…is about as pleasant as Stella. Disappointing. Tanzania is pretty bad at larger. Or maybe that is just larger…

We had a briefing, got ‘reassured’ by a man who later admitted he hadn’t climbed yet, met our guide, Evarest (yup…), for the first time and partook in what I will forebodingly refer to here as The Last Supper. I had some fruit juice. More on that subject later…

And here we are, back in the Farrow/James suite, with me writing up the journal and Ms Farrow having some packing dilemmas. Eventually, she succeeds. We break the ice of the inevitable large amount of nudity this trip is going to bring with something along the lines of “It’s hot in here…I’m not unpacking my PJs from the bottom of that bag…deal with it”. The four poster beds with their mozzie nets afford a little childish glee and I bunk down for what will be the second of many sleepless nights.

In the morning…We ride for Kili’ma.

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Kilimanjaro – Getting There – Part 1

NB….This is y far the most boring part of the Kili journal….

8th September 2012

What the original hand-written journal said:

Farrow is having some packing issues. I got shoved in the pool by Hampson and Lyness. Dust tornadoes. Everywhere. The view of Mt Meru from the eighth floor of the Impala. Massai. Termite mounds. Birds’ nests. Children herding livestock. Tribal death eaters. Awful take off. Eiffel Tower and Arch du Triomphe. The moon. The moon over the cost of Sicily. ❤ Bombardier. Gentleman Jack is drinkable. *Censored bit*. Sam being lovely on the plane. I owe Jarrah and James a drink. Yummy dinner.

Elaboration written in the pub a few weeks later:

‘It won’t go in! I don’t understand!’ In some ways the art of packing reminds one of the way in which waiters make the numbers dance on the bill. Miss Farrow was moderately perplexed when she was unable to fit her gear in her bag. We had arrived at the Impala, Arusha, and were packing for mountain-bound departure in the morning. Given that everything fit and was within the weight limit when we left Heathrow, and items had since been removed, one sympathises entirely with the perplexedness.

We left the house remarkably on time (the ‘we intend to be out of the house at XX O’Clock’ time, not the ‘we will actually be out of the house at XX O’Clock’ time) which would be a thoroughly boring detail not worthy of inclusion in a journal, where it not for the fact that drama struck within moments of departure. Whilst traversing the scenic and aromatic Clarence Street, each of us carrying enough baggage to be eliciting many a ‘how are their spines coping?’ look from the locals, Farrow realised she had forgotten her hat! It was touch and go for a few minutes. But I guarded the bags fiercely from the skiving school children with the shifty eyes, and Farrow soon returned with the offending article of headwear. In hindsight, our timely departure from Toothill Road was indeed an advantageous circumstance and with this headstart on sod’s law, fate and other disasters we arrived at the train station with a good twelve minutes to spare. The first of many firsts on our journey. Such an early arrival at a train station was a concept I was, personally, struggling with, but I was conveniently distracted from my inner-struggle by the arrival of Jarrah and James. By the looks of their faces their baggage was being about as kind to them as our was to us and giving gravity’s ego a real boost. Strangely enough….there was actually space in the luggage racks for our bags. I note this as a particular point of interest on account of the usual struggle one encounters in attempting to find space for any article larger than a Dan Brown novel into a luggage storage facility on East Midlands Trains. Also, we met a strange tall bloke on the train who we failed to shake off for the entire duration of the trip. Points for commitment.

The next few hours were not as riveting as the saga of the forgotten hats so we’ll approach them in fast forward. And see whether it lasts…

The tube is not fun for an hour, standing room only, with four people with two hiking rucksacks each plus hand luggage. Not that this needs pointing out. I wonder vaguely how the beach volleyball team has fared back in the ‘Borough.

I hand out pretty standard advice to people travelling with me on planes. It involves bringing swimwear and a towel and not, under any circumstances, asking questions like ‘are you ok’ or talking about physics, safety stats or how much more likely you are to crash in a car. The thing about phobias is that they are, by their very definition, illogical fears. You cannot solve a lack of logic by applying logic. It just doesn’t work. It is, quite frankly, illogical. So don’t try and explain the science to me. I know the science. I know most of the technical specs of the aircraft. Right down to the various potential seating set-ups depending on which class you’re sitting in. So, please, no patronising. I am not a five year old. I am a grown up who is sensible enough to recognise the sheer stupidity of siting in a metal box suspended several thousand feet above the nearest solid thing. Call me sentimental, but I’m rather attached to the whole ‘life’ thing. I dislike metal boxes in the sky. Almost as much as I dislike being in them. (Wooden ones are fine). Anyway. Back to the point. There is a man from Student Adventures here at the terminal. He is fairly useless. And moderately patronising. So we ignore the annoying man. But the Virgin woman (who, according to the boys, represents false advertising on behalf of Mr Branson and co. due to her advanced years and lack of Barbie-like figure…personally I feel she was doing pretty well for her years…), who I believe is there to sound soothing and helpful, is also fairly useless. And moderately patronising. ‘No I can’t aid you in a way which will reduce your anxiety, you silly little thing, but don’t worry about it…the pilot has a family so he wouldn’t fly if it wasn’t safe’ …

Shoot me now.

Now shaking with rage and fear I’m most certainly not going to sit around and wait for the inspiring prep-talk of our illustrious team leader. I’m going to go get wasted. Good job I’m a lightweight or I’d now be bankrupt. So my lovely Ms Farrow and I set out for a bar. And are soon joined by a pair of Scousers who, thankfully, at this stage had not developed an egg fetish.

The shiny red shoes are everywhere and they look painful. Do Virgin Airhostesses have an option for flats? Or perhaps they’re all drones?

After a couple of hours, a fair bit of unpleasantness and some loveliness from Jarrah, James, Farrow and Mr Hampson we were cruising over Paris not long after sunset. I would like to point out at this stage that Samuel was taking his team leader duties very seriously and was suspiciously lovely. This was not a foretelling of the machine gun and crashing noises we’d be treated to later. Lyness nearly got himself clobbered over the head with a stolen air hostess’ shoe.

I got a bit overexcited on spotting the Eiffel Tower. Said Tower and the Arch du Triomphe were rather pretty seen from above at night as the moon rose, huge and bright orange, over France. Peeking out of the window as we flew over Italy, the haze had cleared and the moon was shining over the Tyrrhenian Sea.  As we approached Sicily we were treated with one of the first breath taking views of the trip as the moonlight reflected off Etna’s foothills in the distance, and the incredibly still shoreline below. Slightly disappointing lack of lava.

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Shira Cathedral

Shira Cathedral

Sunset from our tent. Night two on the mountain at Shira plateau.

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