I always moan at my mam for not opening texts (and emails – her inbox is a MESS) so she always has a little message icon which really bothers me because although it’s all appointment reminders or spam that she doesn’t bother opening, it means she can miss important texts. So I was going through her messages last night deleting all the unopened nonsense. I got towards the end and realised she still had messages from 2011 and it was when I found this one that I was inspired to write this post: “I didn’t make it. 😦 I got to 1 hour and 15 minutes away. Pretty annoying after 4 days and 5 hours of hard trekking. Diabetes effed everything up as usual. I got a piggy back down though and got to hold hands with a beautiful black man! xx” Reading this I still found my eyes welling up but what really bothers me is if someone asks me if I made the summit, all I can really say is “No.” I can’t go into how in the first 4 days, despite having type 1 diabetes, not being particularly fit at the time and never having climbed a mountain before(!!), I was storming ahead loving every minute. I was up at the front the whole way through and two of the boys said that they were surprised I was the only girl that had been up the front with them the whole way (probably a backhanded compliment, as a lot of the other girls were a lot more sporty/active than me!). I was so proud of myself and felt a huge sense of achievement. I also loved it because of the people I was with and the beyond beautiful sights I saw. But why did I sign up in the first place?
In my first year at university, I think I was the bravest I ever have been! Something about moving away from Shetland to the mainland, a remote island to a big city; moving into halls with a bunch of people I’d never met before; the transition from school to university and all the other changes involved with moving from home and going to university… It made me feel excited about life, like I could do anything.
One evening in halls, we were in the flat upstairs eating curry and playing multilingual Chinese whispers with the exchange students and two boys who we first assumed to be PRs came to the door. There were PRs from clubs over most nights so we weren’t expecting anything exciting from them. But these two boys turned out to be 2 of the group I’d travel to Africa with in September 2011. They told us they were planning to climb Kilimanjaro for Childreach International and were looking for a group to join them. A few days later me and my friend, Toria, went to an information meeting and the next thing I knew I was signing up online.
When I told my family, I think they thought I’d lost the plot. I’ve always had a really keen interest in travel and want to see the world, but due to being skint 24/7 I hadn’t really been very far. I had never been outside Europe, plus, prior to this I hadn’t really been into anything outdoorsy, as I said before, I’d never climbed a mountain, mainly because Shetland doesn’t have any – lots of hills but no mountains! My nanny is the biggest worrier in the world and she was absolutely horrified.
We flew to Kenya then drove through the border to Tanzania. The night we arrived at our hotel, before we started climbing the next day, I remember being terrified and thinking “what have I done?” The next day we got the bus to our starting point (which is already higher than Ben Nevis, Scotland’s highest mountain). We met our guides and they were the lovely, but the star of the show was Geoff. Geoff the chef. He woke us in the mornings with a hot drink and always started the day with a group rap of 50 cent “hey hey hey, go shawty!” When I returned to camp after I got ill on summit night it was Geoff I turned to. He gave me a cuddle then, as Geoff did best, he rapped! Unfortunatley I do not have a good picture of Geoff, but here he is mid-rap in some terrible lighting…
On the climb we experienced all different weather and scenery. There was rain, sun, snow, sunburn, -20… extremes of all the seasons. And the scenery varied everyday, sometime it was moist and humid – rainforest-y, others the ground was so dry and there was no water to be seen. Then at the top of course, it was snowy and we had 5 or 6 layers and struggled to get changed and get out of our sleeping bags in the morning!
Our meal times were super cute. We all crammed in round a table and ate whatever Geoff had russled up (usually soup and bread followed by spaghetti and “spaghetti sauce”). We were eating around 4000 calories a day to keep going which could be hard sometime as altitude can make you feel like eating is the last thing you want. We had hot drinks with tins of powdered milk which was actually surprisingly nice. We chatted with Geoff and got a talk from Jonas (another total legend) about what the next day of trekking would entail.
I think Barranco wall was one of the scariest parts of the trek. It’s an 800ft “wall” and from the bottom it looks just like a vertical wall but once you get started there are more nooks and crannies than you expect to aid your climb! The guides consistently remind you to take it “pole, pole” (Swahili for ‘slowly, slowly’, pronounced ‘polay, polay’). But what’s really amazing is the porters!! They climb it quickly in their battered trainers carrying heavy bags for us on their backs. Amazing.
To get used to the dropping oxygen levels, some nights when we got to camp, Jonas would take us on a small climb to a higher altitude then we’d do yoga to take deep breaths and take in the air. It was unbelievably relaxing. I’ve never felt anything like it.
We sung songs as we went to keep morale up (when we had enough breath), often Lion King songs – how cliché! I never realised how many words from the Lion King were Swahili e.g. simba – lion. Jonas used to always tell us we had to be “Imara kama simba” (‘strong like a lion’)
One of my biggest disappointments of the trip (aside from not quite making the summit) was not having a good camera. Some of the group had SLRs with them and got great photos which we’ve all shared on Dropbox. I had a dirt cheap point and click that was on the verge of breaking. But I could barely afford the trip itself and spending money, never mind forking out for a DSLR. I still don’t have one but am currently saving up for a compact SLR, hopefully in time for my upcoming trip to Munich. I have little summer work at the moment so I’m trying to save the balance up on Paypal through selling on eBay! Fingers crossed.
Richard sneaking into the background of the girls’ photo!
In writing this post, I nearly forgot to explain the reason behind it all! We were fundraising for a great charity called Childreach International. We each had to raise around £2,400 each which seemed monumental! Being from Shetland, I think it was easier to fundraise because of the sense of community. I got a lot through advertising on Facebook and Twitter and wrote to a lot of local businesses who were so so generous. We also had a club night in Glasgow to raise some as a group. Altogether we made almost £50,000! I am so so proud of that. The charity works for education, health care and child rights. They have lots of challenges and if you’re interested in doing something like this you should definitely have a look at their website.
The trip was one of the best things I’ve ever done in my life. If anyone is considering it, I cannot recommend it enough! I actually want to go back and make the summit. I met a man in the hotel we stayed at before who had come back from doing just that – didn’t quite make it first time round so came back and tried again – and did it!
If anyone else has climbed Kilimanjaro, I’d love to hear about your trips or if anyone has any questions about the trip, equipment, climbing with diabetes etc I’d love to answer them.
Coming soon – the rest of my Tanzania experience: Moshi, visiting one of Childreach’s project schools, going on safari, the paradise island of Zanzibar!