Whoosh! Issue 38 - November 1999


Alzheimers, Mt. Kilimanjaro, Xena, And Me: A Journal




The Trek Begins: Thursday, 08/26/99

[38] The answer to "is this trip going to turn into the trip from hell?": YES! We woke up at 3 am to the sound of rain pounding down. We want to look outside but can't because we are locked in. Even here in the middle of nowhere, all the windows and doors are locked and barred. As is typical in these parts the power is out, so we get up and hunt around in the dark for our room key. After tripping over our bags in the dark, we finally use Sandy's Indiglo watch as light to find the key. Sure enough, we throw open the door to a downpour, very disheartening for me because I can't shoot in the rain. We crawl back into bed (wisely leaving the key in the door) and chat for a while.

[39] Don pounds on our door at 6:20 am to wake us. It's only dribbling outside now. We quickly eat breakfast and get our packs into the courtyard for the porters. Seamus, the hotel owner, comes with bad news. Our filming permit has been denied. Everything has to go through the High Commissioner now since last month, when some guy went into the park, shot a beer commercial that portrayed Kilimanjaro in a bad light, and the government has now decided to shut down all filming in the park.

[40] I make the decision to leave the camera, wireless mikes, and tripod at the hotel and to put the little emergency handheld camera into one of our bags that will be carried into the park by the porters. This breaks my heart. No wide angle lens! No proper microphones! I haven't even test shot with this little camera.

[41] We have also decided to use our political connections with Ottawa to see if we can get the film permit approved. If it comes through, Seamus will send porters up with the equipment.

[42] All 38 porters and guides gather and are introduced to us. We each go find the porter who will be carrying our bag for the trip and introduce ourselves. Then, a general melee ensues, as the porters grab their loads, balance them on their heads, and walk to the end of the road to meet their transport truck to the mountain.

This Duraflame log will keep us warm for hours

Frederick, our wonderful African lead guide
[43] We were supposed to leave at 9 am but have to wait until the park issues a regular climbing permit for me at 11 am. Finally, we leave in two Land Rovers. The porters have left almost an hour before us, but we quickly pass them on the slow, dusty road.

[44] The 60 km drive to the mountain gate takes us three hours. It is fascinating, as we pass through numerous little villages. The roads are full of people walking, most of them women carrying something on their head -- water, bananas, lumber. The men seem to sit around a lot while the women work. A few of the men ride bikes, but we see no women on them. The kids along the roadside all wave to the Jeeps, yelling "Jambo" ("Hello" in Swahili). Some give us the thumbs up.

[45] The roads are dusty and rutted. The drivers go wherever is easiest, not picking any particular side. I marvel at the fact that the people can stay so clean, with vibrantly colored clothes, when everything else seems to be stained red by the soil. Even the dogs and goats are coated in the dust.

[46] We stop at a bar for lunch, just to use their tables because we have a packed lunch from the hotel (egg sandwich, orange, brownie, mini-bananas, and tea). Lizbet and I go to the bathroom, which is disgusting. A small hole in the floor, the floor is wet. There is no lock on the door, so I shove it closed. I pee as fast as possible and then try to open the door. It's stuck. The stench is overwhelming. I hear Lizbet leaving, so I yell at her to kick the door in. Puzzled, she stands on the other side and asks me to repeat myself. Sensing the panic in my voice, she lets loose with a mighty kick. I rush out yelling, "you're my hero!"

[47] The rest of the bumpy truck ride was uneventful, marked only by the opening and closing of windows and vents as the occasional truck rumbled past, leaving a cloud of dust in its wake.

Everyone find your field trip buddy!

General chaos as we unload at the park gate.
[48] Finally, we arrived at the park gate. After registering in, we all went to the bathroom again (I should mention that most of us started taking the altitude sickness drug, Diamox, which is a diuretic). Peggy was using the pit toilet and accidentally knocked her wonderful, expensive pocketknife from her waistband. It bounced once and went right down the hole. She came out asking for a flashlight, like she was going to go fishing for it. We persuaded her that knives don't float!

[49] After all the anticipation, we start up the trail. Strangely, a boy accompanies us from the village carrying a radio. Annie Lennox sings "Why" as we begin. We keep a very, very slow pace, for which I am happy. I can already feel the altitude. We are going to 9300 feet today. The Diamox has me going to the bathroom every half-hour, which is good, but it holds up the group. The overcast day gives way to sunny breaks and we have a very pleasant walk through the jungle, complete with monkey sightings and buffalo manure. At some point, the boy with the radio stops walking and waves us goodbye.

[50] I am very unhappy that I don't have my camera. I briefly contemplate tackling the porter carrying my bag when they walk past, but don't. Matt and Sue think it's best to wait and collect it at the first camp. The porters scamper by, walking three times faster than us, and are gone. I then kick myself at all the missed shooting opportunities.

If carrying a book on your head is good for your posture, imagine how good THIS will be

A porter walking with our firewood on his head
[51] We walk for three more hours. Sandy makes a promotional call to a Vancouver radio station using the satellite telephone. I love technology!

[52] We arrive at the camp the porters have set up. These guys are amazing! You can't believe how they work. I quickly find my bag and pull my camera out to begin shooting in the fading light.

[53] Dinner is served in a big tent. Somehow we all manage to cram around a table set on the floor. It's awkward and uncomfortable and yet still kind of fun. During dinner, we do a little test of our pulse rate. Mine is 96. Everyone else comes in the 70's. Apparently, you don't want it to be too high, but mine is always fast anyway. We are supposed to be checking these numbers morning and night.

Spam again?

Crowding around the dinner table.
[54] After a great dinner of mushroom soup, spaghetti, potatoes, and dessert in the big tent, we go outside. The overcast night sky is slowly giving way to a full moon. It's beautiful! We all turn in and begin writing in our diaries.

[55] Suddenly, a voice calls out, "You can see Kilimanjaro! Come quickly!" Now we're excited! We all pile out of our tents and look in awe, finally, on the outlines of Mawenzi and Kibo, the twin peaks of Kilimanjaro. What an impressive sight! In each of our minds runs the thought "we have to climb that!?!?!"

[56] Right now, I'm wrapped up in my sleeping bag, fully dressed. I don't know what I was thinking when I packed shorts and t-shirts. It's bloody cold outside and we only have pit toilets once again. We all avoid using them whenever possible. Sometime during the middle of the night I pull my runners on for the umpteenth time and go to find a convenient bush. There, I gaze up at the most wondrous sky I have ever seen. The Southern Cross blazes, the stars are stunning, and the moon is so bright I can see for miles. I can almost forget I hate camping!


9300 Feet And Still Ticking: Friday, 08/27/99

[57] I awake to the sound of Sue, our guide, saying, "the sun is going to be hitting Kili soon." I leap up and grab the camera. Since I have no wide angle or tripod, I have to balance the camera on a rock but then, sure enough, I catch a spectacular sunrise on Kili.

[58] Soon, I hear shouts of "oh my god, hot water!" behind me. The rest of the team is gathering around a pan of hot water one of the porters has brought. Everyone reverently stares at the steam rising and someone produces a bar of soap. We all drop to our knees and wash our faces. You know you're getting back to basics when some lukewarm water can produce sounds of ecstasy from grown adults! Once everyone has washed, Matt uses the water to wash his hair. Then Peg takes it to wash her feet. Talk about recycling!

Auditions for the Pontius Pilate role

The thrill of a pan of hot water
[59] We get off by 9:15AM, the porters beetling off past us. I am immediately shocked at how heavy my pack is and how much work it is just to walk. This is going to be tough! I finally get into a groove and feel better (when we all talk later, I find out everyone felt the same, that it took a few minutes for their heart to stop pounding and their breath to fall into a rhythm before they felt okay). During one of our breaks, I had my heels taped because I was starting to get blisters. Matt checked to see what I had in my pack and removed a couple of things. I guess all the batteries, tapes, and solar panel weighed more than I thought!

Is that a hickey?

Me having my heels taped for blisters early in the climb.
[60] I try to pace myself when shooting. If we have a break, I leave early and grab a spot to shoot from. After the group passes, I then "polepole" ("slowly" in Swahili) with Matt and eventually we would catch up. I know that we look ridiculous at the pace we are going, but if you try to go any faster than a snail's pace, you start panting. Still, it is exhausting as we head through 10,000 feet and up to 11,800. I begin to have doubts as to how much I can shoot on summit day, since it's so much higher and steeper.

[61] The temperature changes, dropping 16 degrees in the first 3 hours. I have the solar panel hanging off my backpack, but it can't get wet, so I spend the entire day bringing it in and out of the pack.

This is when we took a wrong turn and ended up on the surface of Mars

Day 3, everyone on the move. The dreaded solar panel is on my back
[62] It starts to rain hard just as we get to Second Cave, which as its name suggests, is a great little cave to hang out in for lunch. Everyone pulls their Gortex jackets out to put on and we start out. Within ten minutes, the sun is out again and the Gortex is pulled off. We are traveling across a lava field, which has the most amazing rock formations and even some vegetation. The volcano last erupted 300,000 years ago. We pass through an area which had experienced a brush fire a couple of years ago. All the bushes are blackened sticks. As we survey the huge area that was consumed we all wonder how hikers could escape if something like that happened.

[63] Towards the end of the hike Matt and Sue talk to me about the upcoming days and that they want to keep the group together and that means I can't hang back too far for shots. That's fair. They also worry about all the energy I'm expending doing the shooting. I assure them that I am there to make the summit and I'm being careful. Still, I'm now glad I only have the small camera, when even a 6 oz. jacket in my backpack feels heavy.

[64] We get into camp and Sandy finds out the government was successful and the equipment is coming up tomorrow! After my little chat with Matt and Sue, I don't think it's a good idea but Sandy informs me that a $500 payment has already been made to the African government. Oh well, I'll have it for the interviews I plan for Sunday.

Take the stupid picture already so we can get back to the campfire!

Sandy and I, freezing
[65] People are quite tired already. We all turned into bed at 7 pm!

[66] The porters are across the creek in a cave. It's hilarious, they sound like they're having a party. Matt goes over to ask them to quiet down and it's instantly silent. He comes back and I can hear Sue say "oh my god, you smell like pot!" They were having fun!

[67] This morning it was a surreal sight, as I walked past the big dinner tent and saw at least 25 of the porters sleeping in there. They were all laid out like spokes in a wheel, side by side. I guess you don't get up to go to the bathroom once you're in!

[68] I'm writing this with the light of my headlamp, so it's messy. Lizbet was nauseous today. I feel fine. Tomorrow we go to 14,800 feet or so. Sue says people will be feeling pretty tired and lethargic by the time we get to camp.

[69] We apparently are not eating enough either. Frederick, our African guide, is concerned because he wants us to keep our strength. Tonight they served me an eggplant, goat cheese, and potato/carrot stew with rice. However, they set up the dinner tent on a hill with about a 45 degree angle and everything was sliding downhill. Peggy tripped, Nancy spilled her tea, and it ran downhill into my pants. I leapt up yelling "hot, hot, hot!"

[70] It's another beautiful night, but very cold. I'm trying to sleep with the camera and batteries in the bag with me, which adds to the discomfort level but prevents the battery power from draining in the cold. The sleeping bag the hotel kindly supplied is thin. I have on 3 pairs of pants, 3 shirts/sweaters, and am still shivering.

[71] Sandy called the Alzheimer Society and she passed along a message from Doug that he was looking forward to sharing the moon with me on August 30th. It made me cry.

[72] I'm trying to go to sleep now because we have to be up at 5:50 am to call Global TV for a live hit.



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