Big Boy Kilimanjaro

First time I got to clearly see Kilimanjaro, and realize what I was getting myself into

First time I got to clearly see Kilimanjaro, and realize what I was getting myself into

 “Only those who risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go”. -T.S. Eliot

I did not plan to climb a mountain, go on a trek, or even a long day hike when arriving in Tanzania. But again, I never plan anything like that, really. I am more of the bohemian kind, following the path that is drawn in front of me and fully embracing what life has to offer. I guess that’s what happened this time again. That’s how I ended up on the Roof of Africa, the world’s highest free standing mountain, a wonder amidst Africa.

I don’t truly recall how I made the decision to go on this adventure. I believe it imposed itself to me rather. I was there, Kili was there- why not, right? I guess I also needed the challenge. I offered to friends around if they wanted to join. Some said that they were not ready, some were concerned about the cost of it and others were just not interested. That did not discourage me at all, I didn’t really need to have company, but I am never against a fun team. In the end, I believe that it was part of the challenge – you don’t need to always be surrounded (but you are never alone as you will see).

As I said, I didn’t plan on climbing Kilimanjaro. I was not any close to be prepared for it :don’t follow me on this one. I did not have any proper gear. Just simple hiking shoes (I remember the guy at the sport store telling me ‘you’re not gonna do any crazy hiking or trekking, any mountain climbing, right?!’ – of course not!). I ended up climbing Kili on the Machame route (nicknamed the Whiskey Route to differentiate it from the easy Marangu/ Coca-Cola route) in jeans and tank top until Barafu camp – Base camp (4600m), which left a group of well prepared Aussies in admiration, and one of them was even kind enough to give me handwarmers – thanks for that, saved my fingers!

Kili is not necessarily a technical climb. However, everyone will tell you that altitude is the biggest challenge – and it’s one hell of a challenge! Uhuru peak, the summit  (Freedom peak in swahili) stands at 5895m (19341ft), way above the altitude at which High Altitude Sickness occurs, together with pulmonary edema and cerebral edema. Trekking Kili should never been taken lightly – about 10 people die every year on the mountain. It is mandatory to spend a minimum of 5 days on the mountain to acclimatize and to have a team supporting you, with qualified mountain guides.

When choosing who to go with, I had two requirements – qualified and local. I did not want my money to get in the pocket of some western big fancy company, especially knowing that the local staff will only get peanuts. I found THE team I needed, and I couldn’t have found better: Popote Africa Adventure.

The amazing Popote Team Remy our chef on the left, Paul with the orange flower necklace, Caitlyn on his right, Richard in yellow and Sabino in the extreme right. At the bottom, the awesome oh-so-sweet Wadhi kneeling on the left, and me on the right.

The amazing Popote Team
Remy our chef on the left, Paul with the orange flower necklace, Caitlyn on his right, Richard in yellow and Sabino in the extreme right.
At the bottom, the awesome oh-so-sweet Wadhi kneeling on the left, and me on the right.

Popote is a small local company, based in Moshy, at the feet of Kilimanjaro. Sabino, the chief guide on Kili treks, is one of those people I will never forget. He is simply amazing, not only because of his work and how smooth everything went, but as a person, a truly wonderful human being. I am glad I crossed his path and had the chance to meet him. He was genuinely kind and caring from the moment I first contacted him until the day that I left Tanzania. Sabino even drove all the way to Arusha, to my house, just to say goodbye. I can never thank him enough for being who he is. Asante sana rafiki!

If you are going to climb Kilimanjaro: go with Popote Africa Adventure.

Sabino provided me with the best team, and the best climbing buddy. As told before, I was not against having company, just didn’t get to have any of my friends from Arusha joining. It seemed to be the case of Caitlyn as well. I can’t express how awesome this girl is. Caitlyn was the best person I could have shared this experience with. We were on the same page from day one. She is this cute girl from Corpus Christie, Texas, smart and fun, very laid back and most of all extremely positive mind. In a nutshell: a great soul. So there we were, two beach town gals, going on a ‘hike’ on Kilimanjaro. Everyday had it’s moment of ‘are we really doing this?! are we Kili’n it?!‘ Until we actually did it, and then it was ‘Did we really do this?! we Kili’ed it!‘. Caitlyn, I am really grateful to have you as my mountain friend, keep being your amazing soulful self – and enjoy the next adventure. Baadai dada!

We were blessed with an awesome team as well. Paul and Richard are the best mountain guides ever. Very professional and at the same time extremely fun, knew exactly what to say and when to say it. When we needed a little push and when we had to rest. And always keeping a great spirit. We shared incredible moments and emotions with them. Climbing this mountain was not just a physical challenge, you dig deep into yourself – and those guys were just incredible in every situation. I did struggle on the summit night, experience High Altitude Sickness (lack of oxygen, dizziness, exhaustion, cold etc.) but we had agreed before hand with Caitlyn that if one wouldn’t make it the other had to keep going. So I told her to keep going when I though I wouldn’t go any further. Richard stayed with me, took care of me, got me an oxygen kick, gave me his jacket and gave me the strength to keep going, simply because he believed in me – he believed I could do it, when I was in limbo. Thank you my friend for this. So we did just that. He got me back standing on my two feet and we kept going. When the sun rose, I started seeing Stella Point (the first point before Uhuru, and the end of the steepest part of the climb). Dawn gave me more strength, and I kept going, following Richard, pole pole.

Paul, Caitlyn, Richard and me

Paul, Caitlyn, Richard and me – Kili’n it!

When I reached Stella Point (5739m) I litterally collapsed and felt tears rolling down my cheeks while I had the largest grin on my face. I cannot describe this feeling, relief, joy, exhaustion, happiness, fulfillment and pride and perhaps more. I sat for a second – begged Richard to count my toes to see if they were all still attached to my body (and he did it! 😀 ) – and then looked up. ‘-Is that Uhuru? -Yes. -Can we keep going? -No, you won’t make it… Of course you can! let’s do it girl.’ Challenge accepted.

Fifty minutes later I finally reach Uhuru. I finally reach Freedom.



“Facing a challenging climb is not always about making your own path. Sometimes the best guidance comes from those who have walked before you”. -Michaela Dela Pena

On the way there I came across other climbers: ‘congratulations on getting all the way here, you are almost there, keep going!’ This is the spirit of the mountain. This is the soul of Kilimanjaro. I now clearly understand that it’s not the destination that matters, but the way to get there. All that you learn on the way, all the people you meet, all those moments of joy and sharing, tough times and building strength. This is what you get when you reach Uhuru, when you reach Freedom, it is not the place itself, its what got you there.

African lesson n°9 : “Every mountain top is within reach if you just keep climbing”. -Barry Finlay