08 December 2014

The highs and lows of Tanzania

Happy Thanksgiving! Yes, I’m late. But, frankly, whenever am I on time? Moreover, with less than a month left in my contract, I’ve been shipped back to the hinterlands of Ango to help out the small (and shrinking) team, and work has reached new and dizzying heights of craziness and absence of internet access. The latter is why, with greatest apologies, I have no photos – the connection simply can’t handle them (soon enough, I’ll tell you in greater detail about using the Began. It is every bit as old-school and hilarious as you imagine. To post this at all, I had to walk around the depot lot at 6am in my pjs, searching for the signal sweet spot, maman and children and chickens alike staring at me like I was bananas. Can you hear me now? Hahaha – NO).

When I left it, Bunia was bustling with people rushing to finish their to-do lists before the holidays, with Thanksgiving preparations, with all the joy one associates with proposal writing season and unexpected HQ visitors and a house that is packed to the gills…which is to say, very little. In Ango, though there is no shortage of work, there is a stillness that I didn’t know I needed. There is peace and space to make sense of these last few, whirlwind months. Ever since I came back from my most recent R&R, it feels like I’ve being going hell bent for leather. Even the R&R itself held very little of either rest or relaxation, but it was a wild and adventurous ride.

In preparing for my trip, I was paranoid that I would not be able to get into Tanzania, and not completely without reason. Countries were issuing travel bans left and right, including, oddly, those making up the Southern African Development Community, of which DRC is a member. As I emphatically did not want to be turned back at the border, I did a lot of snooping about prohibitions and restrictions, and ran across this little gem and I think that it bears discussing:


A Prohibited Immigrant means any person who if he seeks to enter Tanzania is, or if he has entered Tanzania was at the time of his entry:
a destitute person;
mentally defective or a person suffering from mental disorder;
a person who refuses to submit to examination by a medical practitioner after having been required to do so;
a person who has been certified by a medical practitioner to be suffering from a contagious or infectious disease which makes or which would make his presence in Tanzania dangerous to the public;
a person who, not having received a free pardon has been convicted in any country other than Tanzania of murder or any offence for which a sentence of imprisonment has been passed for any term and who by reason of the circumstances connected therewith, is considered by the Minister to be an undesirable immigrant;
a prostitute or a person who is living on or receiving, or who prior to entering Tanzania, lived on or received the proceeds of prostitution;
a person whose entry into or continued presence in Tanzania is, in the opinion of the Minister or the Principal Commissioner of Immigration Services, undesirable and is declared by the Minister or the Principal Commissioner of Immigration Services to be a prohibited immigrant;
a person against whom there is in force a deportation order or any order for deportation or expulsion from Tanzania made under the provisions of any law for the time being in force;
a person whose presence in or entry into Tanzania is unlawfully under any law for the time being in force;
a dependant of a person to whom any of the preceding paragraphs of this definition apply;
a person who is dealing in dangerous drugs;
a person who has committed a terrorist act or international terrorism;
a person who has committed the offence of trafficking in persons.

I have to admit that after reading this somewhat appalling list, my first question was to wonder what the children of former prostitutes have ever done to Tanzania to piss it off so royally. Of course, it appears that Americans are also on the national shit list, as our visa is twice as expensive as everyone else’s. I suppose that means destitute Americans are doubly excluded.

Anyway, in the hopes of avoiding what was sure to be a stellar Tanzanian quarantine, I had to pass inspection with the local representative of the MoH and confirm that I did not, in fact, have Ebola. The examining doctor, proudly flashing what was almost certainly an aspirational Audi keychain throughout, questioned me for a good 45 minutes, asking whether I had a headache or fatigue (dude. I’m about to go on R&R after almost 14 weeks), stomach pains or diarrhea (I live in Africa. That’s sort of the cost of eating), muscle aches (I teach a yoga class three nights a week!), or bleeding from the gums (we’re safe on that front, at least). I gave an enthusiastic and emphatic no to all of the above. He then pointed a very spiffy gun-like thermometer at my face, with no result. After digging through about five boxes and three thermometer chassis, he was finally able to cobble together something that worked and again drew a bead on my forehead. Just like that, I was stamped, certified, and cleared for travel, departing on a tinker toy plane with a groovy faux wood interior reminiscent of a sedan from the 70s.

It transpired, much to my disappointment if not surprise, that I was allowed to slip right past the police-manned Ebola line in Uganda. No one cares about the infection status of transfer passengers, apparently. And I so wanted to flash my spiffy MoH documentation! I was amused to note that the Entebbe Ebola questionnaire form was offered exclusively in French, marking the sum total of all the French I have ever seen in used in Uganda. Yeah, we all knew who it was for.

The Entebbe airport is not what one might describe as layover-friendly, and as I hunkered down to wait for my next flight, I found myself eating too many Bourbon sandwich cookies out of boredom as much as – no, more so – than hunger. Between the farce with the MoH in Congo and the three separate checkpoints I had observed at the Ugandan airport, I reflected that transportation security is vaguely comparable to an eating disorder. Some institutions and governments have so little control over everything else that they are manic in this one area, and it very rarely has the desired impact. On the upside, the little café in the corner does offer the coolest cappuccino art I’ve ever seen – it was like a sea monster that I’m choosing to believe was intentional. I eventually even busted in to the quinoa and rice chocolate offered as a gift to me on the eve of my departure. Oh, Italian yogis.

I finally did manage to rendezvous with my traveling companion and fly out via Kenya (who has managed to rebuild their international departures wing in record time and it is LOVELY) and ultimately land in Dar es Salaam. We arrived quite late and a little groggy, and I was shocked anew that my visa is twice as expensive as is everyone else’s. Especially when USAID paid for the brand new landing strip! If that’s a gift from the American people, I think I want it back.

Though I ultimately only spent a few waking hours there, I very much enjoyed Dar. I confess that I don’t know altogether too much about Tanzanian history, but I am resolved to learn. There are mosques next to Swiss clock towers, full veils next to knee-length skirts next to Masai in traditional garb. Perhaps it was a little industrial, and perhaps it lacked the charm of a Cape Town, but it was vibrant and diverse and welcoming and these are some of my all-time favourite things.

While out exploring the city, we stopped by the fish market. The smell was bracing and the uneven cement ran with blood. It was a hot day, but ski hats abounded. As you would expect, there was an enormous variety of fish ranging from the size of my finger, destined to be fried and eaten whole, to monsters that took two men to lift. While I wish that I could tell you more - type, perhaps, or shape (round bellied and heavy or angular and sleek, seeming to still cut through the air, bulbous backed and surprisingly asymmetrical) or colour (they were mostly all some variant of sliver (pewter, grey, steel blue, ice white) and levels of iridescent (dull to so shimmery as to be reflective)) – but, to be honest, fish aren’t really my thing. Just across the street was another market, this one full of dry goods and crown of thorns starfish and cooked fish. One could not fault their freshness. The vendors were bulk frying small fish and octopus that had been dyed a vibrant red in massive woks. I’m sure the oil had been used in the high hundreds of times. It was deeply bronzed and thick with use and wildly unhygienic and probably tasted amazing. The fires under the vats burned hot and the oil that sloshed into them sent up rich plumes of smoke. It was all heat and shouting and chaos and fire and fish. We did not eat here.

We did, however, grab a meal on the street. At first were we not sure if it was kosher (ha) for me to pop into the clearly halal deli, but there was an unveiled woman, so we figured it was okay. Then it was off to the domestic terminal at the airport, where at 45 minutes before our flight we were comically early. I have seen more rigorous check-ins at high school debate competitions. We watched dubbed Mexican soap operas and hoped they didn’t ship our bags to Pemba.

Our quick Cessna flight, shorter than our time in the airport, took us over azure waters to the small island of Mafia. Well south of Zanzibar, Mafia is far less developed than its larger neighbour. They had just begun to tarmac the road from the airport to the marine reserve and we Congolese felt right at home. There were also far fewer tourists (a warm, somewhat dippy trio of French and a handful of obnoxious Germans, one of whom claimed that he was practically African after having been vacationing there for four months. When he asked how long we’d been traveling – what? You just arrived today?! – he preened, solidifying his place as the Super Traveller of our little collective. Golf claps), but still a wealth of activities. We stayed in the marine park, in a tent within eyesight of the ocean.

This was my first time ever going scuba diving, and it was utterly spectacular. There were Bichon Frisé-sized lion fish and giant, long-limbed purple starfish and flat, sandy fish who gave me vertigo when they moved; it looked like the sea bed was undulating beneath me. The impossibly coloured coral teemed with life, otherworldly and overwhelming. At one point, so absorbed was I in the world of the reef that I totally missed the instructor’s cue to go a different way, and my diving companion had to swim after me and catch me by the flipper. I found to my chagrin that it’s very difficult – nigh impossible – to apologise under water. We also saw our fair share of sharks (the other divers, who were more experienced and therefore could go deeper than 12m, didn’t see any. Huzzah for beginners luck!), mostly of the reef variety.

Possibly the most memorable event of my maiden dive came when the instructor stopped us, and made the signal for shark – hand straight up and down at the centre of one’s chest, as though half praying. He then corrected himself, holding up two fingers. Two sharks! He signalled to us a third time, holding his hands slightly wider than his shoulders and wiggling his fingers for emphasis. Two BIG sharks. We made the collective decision to stay put for a moment and see what they were up to. Which was a fine plan, but then two things happened in quick succession: first, a section of the reef detached itself and swam towards us. No – wait – it was just a grouper the size of a Smart Car. Second, there was a terrifically loud explosion. The sharks hightailed it out of there, and two more explosions later, we followed. One cannot reasonably be expected to dive in peace when there is illegal dynamite fishing on going.

I really did love the diving, even though I am not nearly as graceful as others somehow manage to be – when I should be hovering observantly, reverently over a trumpet fish, I find that I more flail, and the sharks nearly scared me right into the reef – though I do breathe well. I used less oxygen even than the instructor. Thanks, yoga! This – the flailing, not so much the breathing – was especially on display when we went snorkeling with whale sharks (it has been the Year of the Shark). Others were diving down, swimming alongside the sharks, close enough to touch them. I, never what one might call an ocean girl, was content to stay on the water’s surface, following just beyond oscillations of the enormous tail, reveling in how the sunlight managed to caress the leopard spotted skin. My reticence was due to my fear of drowning, which in this instance was partly imagined, and partly due to the fact that my mask didn’t fit right and nose and eyes kept filling up with water. I would just have let myself dissolve into the moment – mouth of the whale shark working like a bellows, devouring the plankton just visible as particles in the dappled water, boats silent, the sharks massive and somehow still sleek, graceful…and then gahgarblearghcoughhack. Sea water up the nose and in the eyes, trying in vain to cough and sputter without distracting from the experience. Like I said: elegance was not my byword.

Eventually – and how I did this, I do not know – I managed to single out my own shark, tailing its leonine movements away from the pack of snorkelers. They were a bit difficult to find at this point; Super Traveler had touched one, which was verboten and scared it away, while some of the fishermen’s boats had passed too close over others, cutting into their flesh. Scars criss-crossed the backs of several. In that moment, though, aggressive divers, fishermen with dollar signs in their eyes, malfunctioning equipment, my own incompetence, all was forgotten. Between the bulk and the beauty, following the whale shark felt a bit like watching on of the dancing hippos from Fantasia come to life. It movements were economical but balletic, its skin dappled and painted. I had a sense of communion, serenity, the two of us swimming along quietly together. The spots made it seem like somehow it was keeping an eye on me, though its own were quite small and firmly pointed forward. When it decided it was tired of its noisy, beflippered shadow, it angled gently downward and melted into the hazy water. How something that large could wilfully vanish that easily was quite the impressive trick. Now you see me…

Lacking my gentle giant guide, I became once again acutely aware of my water logged mask, my inability to breathe, the flippers cutting into my heels, and popped back up out of the water, only to see that I was hell and gone from the boat, from the group, treading water in the middle of shark-infested waters all by my lonesome. Mind you, these very large predators only ate very small prey, the boat had already spotted me, and I chose to do this to myself. Even so, this is the stuff horror movies are made of. As I waited for my deliverance, I reminded myself that there are reasons Sharknado did not feature whale sharks.

As with the snorkeling, you had two options for pretty much every activity: hotel or local hire. We went with the hotel/camp for those potentially more hazardous activities. While it was more expensive, it was also infinitely more reliable and reputable (and they kept a respectful distance from the whale sharks). However, we consulted with the wealth of locals milling around the beach for just about everything else. After extensive rounds of bargaining with several captains (Peter, Paul, and Dingbat, I think), we took a tiny, plastic blue boat with a puttering outboard motor (it should have been in some toddler’s tub, not the Indian Ocean) to the tiny forested island of Chole, were ruins from the Omani and formidable orange millipedes abounded. The ruins, which were slowly being devoured by the foliage, were made even less structurally sound by a local myth that the Omani had buried gold somewhere. Most of the floors were dug up (though neither the mosque nor the graveyard had been touched). Wandering through the extensive ruins, warmed by the fading sunlight and adorned by tree roots strung like garlands, I reveled in the quiet and then promptly spoilt it by taking an embarrassing number of photos.

The only thing that marred our Mafia adventure was, to my mind, the somewhat distressing lack of food. The fair proffered by our tented camp was awfully expensive, especially considering the quality, and there weren’t too many more options around. Instead, we ventured out into the nearby village, dining on local delicacies of sugared fried dough and fried fish, still with heads attached and wrapped in newspaper. We further pestered the hotel staff to give us lessons in coconut harvesting so that we might shimmy up a palm and claim a post-scuba snack. Eventually, we discovered the Wave Restaurant. At this fine establishment, one had to order 2-4 hours before one intended to eat, and the only vegetarian option on offer was a coconut curry, but it was well beyond worth it. The food was spectacularly fresh and spicy and cheap. Thus, most of our evenings were comprised of a promenade along the beach, sheltered from the brightness of the starlight by the languidly waving palms, speculating on the interior monologues of the crabs we scared back down their holes. Because the Wave had no power, we ate by candle light.

Surrounded, as I was, by white sandy beaches and water shaded with too many hues of blue to name, I gave in to the cliché and decided to so some yoga on the beach (I defy any self-respecting yogi to do otherwise!). This was possibly a mistake. Allow me do dispel a pernicious yoga myth. It is not romantic to practice yoga on the beach. It is not particularly relaxing to practice yoga on the beach. It is not effortless to do yoga on the beach. Your base keeps moving, above and beyond the rather alarming slant of the beach to begin with. There are crabs that are determined to invade your practice space, and seabirds that deposit the leavings of their kills just in front of your splayed toes, only to pick at them throughout your practice. It is difficult and distracting and makes you work for it. I have no idea how they film yoga videos on beaches. I can only assume that there is some seriously dark mojo involved in that madness.

When we returned, too soon, to Dar, we took a tuk tuk back into town. It’s rather like a motorized rickshaw and offers a very different view of the street. Like almost everywhere else I’ve been, Dar es Salaam boasts its fair share of street vendors, this time hawking fire extinguishers, breakdown kits, hazard signs, movies, serviettes, and cashews (on way to Mafia, our cabbie had promised that we would find them cheaper there. The man was lying like a rug). Unique to Dar, though, was how bus passengers would board by leaping headfirst through the open windows. Several of these buses bore an exhortation to Never Walk Alone. We were undecided as to whether this was a religious mantra or terrifying.

After dropping my friend at the airport, I then snagged a cab to the bus terminal for the next, solo, leg of my adventure that would take me from 15m below sea level to, ultimately, nearly 6000m above it. I reasoned that the bus, which would take 10 hours to transport me from Dar to the border town of Moshi, was 200 USD less expensive than the plane and would offer much more of a cultural experience. In fairness, getting to the terminal itself was fairly illuminating. The cabbie was stopped by cops and interrogated in the hot sun for ages. In the meantime, at least three men tried to climb into my cab. I ignored them and instead focused on the goings on at the goat market in front of which we were parked. It looked like those that didn’t sell went straight into processing at the adjoining Wallet Hot Burger. Finally, the driver relented and bribed the cops and we were back on our way. In hindsight, this also might have been why he endeavoured to overcharge me (the gents at the bus terminal were emphatic that he was cheating you and offered to call the police. Having had more than my fill of those shenanigans, I declined and we settled on 50USD for the cross-town trip. It cost 35 to drive all the way to Moshi).

I’d purchased a ticket on the rather extravagantly named Sai Baba Express, despite my initial reservations (it was not on the list of suggested vendors I’d Googled. See - I did my due diligence, madre). I was one of the first to board, and so got a choice window seat. The doors stayed open and standing room only tickets were sold all the way out of the lot and practically to the outskirts of Dar. At each of numerous small stops (sometimes the bus didn’t even really stop moving, but only slowed), we were mobbed by vendors selling all manner of snacks and refreshments to each other as much as to the passengers: sucres and biscuits, whole loaves of bread and bushels of apples, hardboiled eggs, sparkling with salt. I finally did buy some cashews from a man wearing a taqiyah, a rosary, and a t-shirt calling for more cowbell. Though I opted to save my snack for later, others were less restrained and threw trash on the bus floor with the same abandon as in the street.

We arrived late and it was only the next morning that I could appreciate the numerous charms of Moshi, which is quiet, lovely, unhurried, wide streets framed by towering trees with purple flowers. I did manage to lost on my way into town (my hotel was a bit afield from the city centre) and ended up tromping around the countryside for two hours in flipflops, but I eventually made it back and was rewarded with a more than satisfactory ice coffee for my efforts.

But all this, really, was a prelude. Because, of course, the main draw of Moshi is neither its coffee houses nor its superlative shrubbery, but its mountain. Moshi is the starting point for those wishing to climb Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest mountain and the tallest freestanding peak in the world, the summit was which was my final destination.

I opted to take the Machame Route, in the hiking of which you gain 4,095m over elevation over 40km, totalling and estimated 32 climbing hours. You begin in a mountain rain forest, with lofty canopies and a tangle of vines, and over the course of six days pass through moreland, whose stunted trees reached witchy fingers through dense fog and hung with long strands of burnt orange moss, alpine desert, with bulbous cactuses whose bright yellow flowers exploded against the monochrome rocks, and ended in a blasted moonscape, devoid of plants but beautiful for it’s very barrenness. It was haunting and ghostly and utterly unlike Africa. The trail followed a bit of a roller-coaster path that in theory allowed us to acclimatise successfully, but often felt like we were losing hard-won elevation gains. Each morning, we woke to beautifully clear skies and a peak that loomed, solid and unyielding, ever closer. As we climbed, the clouds chased us up the mountain and engulfed us, obscuring everything beyond a few meters. It felt as though the world had contracted around us, and nothing existed beyond the fog. All that was real was the moment, the rock, the next step, the mountain. Occasionally, Kili would burst forth from the clouds, towering rock formations and glaciers adorning it like saints on a cathedral, only to vanish again into the mist. Each night, we fell asleep under a canopy of stars.

There was a special vernacular for climbing Kilimanjaro, introduced by our superlative team of guides (Sam, Hudson, Julius, Issac, and Gerard. Not the most likely groups of names, I know). ‘Wash wash’ was the bowl of warm water we received each morning and evening to preserve some illusion of cleanliness. ‘Leaving the message’ was what one did when no latrines were available. ‘Pole pole’ was our hiking mantra – slowly, slowly (which, while promoting excellent endurance, also made for burning muscles). ‘Water for life’ was how we were admonished to stay hydrated. Our guides were terribly disappointed in us on this front several times. ‘Depending on our performance’ was how they hedged their bets in giving us any estimation on how long a section of trail would take.

The guides themselves were an interesting hybrid of team leader with butler with nanny. In addition to ensuring that we were furnished with tea and popcorn at the end of every day and ensuring that all of our dietary needs were catered to (this one does not like eggs, and that one onions. Those three do not eat meat or that one porridge. Incidentally, the food was very good, even if it erred on the side of nourishing rather than flavourful), they chided us for leaving the message rather than using the provided latrines (which was sometimes easier said than done. Many of the constructions were…precarious. They did not meet Sphere standards), and checked our O2 and heart rate every night. This was a surprisingly stressful process in which we wondered who would be the first to fail and be carted down the mountain in disgrace? Just the act of having your body regulated in front of a room of strangers, one of whom was a respiratory therapist who would comment on every result, probably sent our hearts racing even faster.

In order to relax ourselves, as well as to take our minds off the depleting oxygen and increasing cold, we often took group quizzes from a tattered book someone with genius foresight thought to pack. After the third night of quizzes, I decided that, collectively, we were either really poorly informed or losing it to the altitude. Henry Who Shall Remain Numberless was not king during the War of the Roses. Yorick did not kill Macbeth. Rupal was decidedly not Sir Edmund Hillary’s Sherpa (in particular, given the level of care we were getting from our own support team, this was an egregious one to miss). It was on the third and fourth days that altitude sickness really started to set in for most people and marked my only real brush with it to, signified by a crushing headache. Add that to my chapped mouth and breaking nails (one of the upsides to RDC, for whatever reason? Best nails of my life), and I was not really feeling my best. I therefore decided a headstand was the only thing for it. In contrast to Mafia, the ground was staunchly unmoving, though it was the most cloathes I’ve ever worn doing yoga. It started to rain during my savasana.

Because of the peculiar nature of the hike, most of the physical heavy lifting came the day before/day of (depends on how you slice it) our summit run. It was on Wednesday morning that we set out to tackle the dauntingly named Baranco Wall. Traffic jams were the order of the day and the guides kept yelling at the porters who pushed through our plodding group. While I could not fault the porters, I was did take umbrage at the other tourists for their rudeness. This was the only remotely technical bit of climbing (and consequently probably my favourite stretch), and as we scrambled up the wall, Gerard would grab my camera when it swung free from my next to stop it from hitting the rocks. We reached the top of the wall in time to catch site of Kili, resplendent in a halo of sunlight and clouds. I felt very much alive (less so after the subsequent three hours we had to trek in order to reach our lunch site). Late in the afternoon, we arrived at the base camp that was perched on a cliff overlooking Mwenzi Peak. The village of tents looked like the flotsam of a shipwreck in a sea of clouds. My hands were almost too cold to work my camera, let alone the recurrently malfunctioning zippers of the tent.

After a nap, too brief and cold to be really meaningful, we were back up and hiking on the moonscape by midnight. There was a moment, just before our final ascent commenced, where a quite fell over us. And in that moment, with the bulk of Kili outlined by a universe of stars, I did not experience any sense of serenity. What I felt was joy, pure and fierce. That, of course, dissipated quickly into the cold, along with our crystalized breath. Flurries of snow were falling from the cloudless sky, and the guides had instructed us to turn our water bottles upside down so that we might be able to steal a few sips as the water froze.

Of all of my yogic adventures in Tanzania, this was probably the closest to capturing the essence of yoga. The entire climb was an exercise in brining breath and movement into harmony. At one point, I also found myself praying the rosary. I didn’t remember starting. I had to concentrate almost fully on the boots of the person just ahead so as not to let my exhaustion and dizziness overwhelm me (as continued to climb, my mental notes got shorter and more abstract, more a poem more than a narrative. I do think that the altitude impacted me less than others, but I was not immune). I continually moved my fingers as though playing a phantom accordion to prevent them from curling into claws around my hiking poles.

We took a minimum of breaks during the summit run. Those of us who managed to stay hydrated left the message as close as Propriety allows to the group, just to minimize our time along in the darkness. Believe you me, she is a gentle mistress at 3am in the freezing cold. The last time the guides called for a halt, I almost cried. I thought that I might well solidify on the spot. That was when they passed out shots of hot tea that one of them – Hudson, maybe? – had dragged all this way (most were not wearing their own bags, so that they could take ours were we too exhausted), and I almost cried again, this time with relief.

When I did choose to raise my eyes from the trail, I could make out other hikers snaking up the trail as though climbing into the stars like some modern-day tragic Greek hero. Or Draco. Several sported red headlamps, and I wondered whether they expecting incoming. In the other direction, Moshi shined below us like a jewel.

Julius, who was probably my favourite of the guide team, was the one actually leading us up the mountain. All during the trip, Julius would seek out even the smallest scraps of trash, a one man clean-up crew, and had once practiced yoga with me. His first summit was in 1994 and at this point he knew the trail so well, the headlamp seemed unnecessary (as were the cairns hikers insisted on building throughout, small monuments to themselves). He spent the entirety of the final climb singing Swahili hymns. His strong voice alternated by switchbacks with the speakers dangling from someone’s pack, Adel and the Ting Tings and Kings of Leon and Know When to Hold ‘Em mixed with Ni Wewe Baba and Mimbo Za Mungu. The other guides knew the words to the improbable country songs. I did have a little guilt here, as I found the music from both directions profoundly uplifting, and remembered how on the first day of our trip, I had grumbled about an obnoxious pair of hikers who were blasting music. I wanted to find them on the way back down and introduce myself as the pot to their kettle.

When we finally reached the top, just after sunrise, all was majesty and magic and tears and dancing and cashews. It is rare, I think, to have such an unadulterated feeling of complete satisfaction. The guides hoisted me in front of the sign confirming that we were at Uhuru Peak, 19341ft, a World Heritage Site. Either I was heavier or they more tired than they had anticipated, because they almost dropped me.

There was just time for photos and hugs, and then it was back down, as fast as our exhausted bodies would carry us, covering what had just taken us seven hours in three. I was a bit frustrated a how slow we were going, as the faster the descent, the longer our nap at base camp (a hot, windy nap. The mess tent blew away), but bowed to the demands of aching knees. At one point, a team of our porters appeared around a bend in the trail with juice and other refreshment. It was astoundingly well-timed (I haven’t given the potters the praise they’re due. They outnumbered us three to one, and would stay behind to break down the camp, only to pass us on the trail, each carrying roughly 20 kilos on his head, to have the next camp site set up and dinner prepared by the time we’d arrived. They were aces).

We did seem to race past those who didn’t manage to summit, some of whom were being seen to by the rangers that doubled as a sort of Kili medivac corps (on gentleman was complaining that they did not have sufficient medical services, as he had a lung condition. Sir, this is Tanzania. They don’t have sufficient medical services in Moshi. Maybe if you have a lung condition, maybe don’t make the climb! Of course, one of our own group had some not inconsiderable problems and our guides stole oxygen from another group).

Our final night on the mountain, I enjoyed some delirious vampire dreams, but slept like I was dead. It was the only night I didn’t wake up multiple times. Exhaustion is amazing. With one final, longing glance back at Kili, we flew down the mountain, passing from Alpine desert to moreland to rain forest. If my writing seems a bit rushes, that is because the experience itself was. Kili fell away too soon, leaving a hollow feeling where the glory had been. At least I got an official certificate that BUTTEFIELD climbed the peak. At least they got the Connolly? That’s usually the hard one. When I left for Congo two days later, our crew already there to pick up the next set of tourists to take up the mountain.