Kilimanjaro Diaries: An Excerpt

June 2012, three months to go

Yesterday I realized that our Kili trip is inching uncomfortably close. I was standing with a few other mothers at Sharon’s horse stable – she runs an equestrian therapy center focusing on disadvantaged and disabled children, supplemented by the income from after-school riding classes – while we were waiting for our daughters to be finished with their lesson, and one of them, having heard that I was preparing for a Kili climb, proceeded to quiz me on every detail. She had formerly lived in Tanzania, which gave her at least partial authority on the topic.

“When are you going?”

Gulp. “Errr – first week of September,” I volunteered.

“Wow, how awesome, that’s coming up soon!” she chirped.
What, soon? I did a quick calculation in my head. Our trip was starting in three months. In theory, that sounds like plenty of time, but I have quite a few projects to tackle before then.

One of them is my diary. Back in February I had visions of conducting a ton of research so that I could update my diary with all sorts of cool facts about Kilimanjaro, but so far all I can show in terms of research are the various uses of a garden trowel and instructions on how to pee into a Urinelle. If the chronicles of my adventure are to be more than just an advertisement for female urination devices, then I better get my act together.

Also, I still have to make a doctor’s appointment for altitude sickness and malaria medication, apply for Tanzanian visas, buy a couple of duffel bags, and check my list for anything else that’s still missing. I don’t even want to think of all the daily walking in my hiking boots I am supposed to have done. And all of this needs to be completed sooner rather than later, because we will be gone two weeks in August for what will be our last African family vacation – two weeks that will be missing from my Kili prep time.

All this was racing through my head as I stood there chatting with these other moms in the afternoon sun and after the word “soon” had triggered a minor panic attack in me. All of a sudden, my three months were starting to feel awfully busy. I made a mental note to write a Kili to-do list as soon as I got home. I always feel better after writing a long list.

But my interrogation clearly wasn’t over.

“Which airport are you flying into?”

At this I opened my mouth and then closed it again. I had no idea which airport we were flying into. I barely even knew that Mount Kilimanjaro is in Tanzania. I consulted my brain to see if I knew any cities in Tanzania.
I didn’t.

“You know, where all the people who are climbing Kili fly into,” I pronounced with all the confidence I could muster. All I knew was that someone booked plane tickets for us. I didn’t even know who that was, if I’m completely honest.

“Oh, I’m so excited for you,” she went on. “So what route will you be climbing?”

Wait… I used to know this. There was definitely mention of a route. Of which we were taking the longer one, I did remember that. To better acclimatize. They all have complicated names which I can’t remember, although some of them have nicknames, which I do remember, like the Coca-Cola Route and the Whiskey Route.

I’ve been hoping they’ll open up a Chardonnay one, myself.

The cross-examination still wasn’t finished. The next thing my interrogator wanted to know, of all the possible things one might want to know, was whether we were climbing Kili during a full moon. I was so taken aback that I was speechless. I don’t know when there is a full moon at the best of times, until I happen to notice it right there in the sky, and it usually makes me happy to see it, but that’s it. I certainly don’t think I’ve ever planned a vacation according to the moon cycle. The monsoon cycle perhaps, but not the moon. I’m already stressed out enough having to factor in when the kids are out of school or when I can get a babysitter, and so any astronomical considerations don’t usually enter my mind. For this Kilimanjaro venture I remember that my only concern was when the weather was most suitable to climb up 6,000 meters – because frankly, full moon or not, I would rather not die of hypothermia in a seasonal snowstorm. Forgive me, but the moon is rather far down on my priority list, along with the TV Guide for the first week of September.

However, bright moonlight during summit night is apparently a coveted commodity among Kili experts. Had I bothered to do any research, I might have come across this particular aspect of our climb. Thankfully, I was rescued before having to reveal my ignorance about the September moon phases. Sharon, who had come over to chat with us and had caught the last part of the conversation, cut off any further questions with an authoritative “Don’t ask us all these technical questions. We’ll just show up where they tell us and start walking. Just give us a mountain.”

And it’s true. Those are exactly my sentiments. In fact, I’m secretly looking forward to the Kili trip, even though I’m publicly pretending to be scared of the challenge. In reality it has all the trappings of a dream vacation: beyond lacing up my boots in the morning, I won’t have to plan my day.
I won’t have to do any shopping.

I won’t have to cook any meals.
I won’t even have to plan any meals.
I won’t have to urge anybody along, other than myself.
I won’t have to answer any questions beyond “Are you going to have the tea or the coffee” upon dragging myself into camp each afternoon.

I won’t have to think about anything. The only thing I will have to think about is which might be the best spot for my you-know-what and whether it was really necessary to schlepp along that garden trowel urged onto me by my packing list. I will have hours at my disposal to contemplate that single question, and that thought, irrationally, makes me happy.

***

Click here to order Kilimanjaro Diaries: Or, How I Spent a Week Dreaming of Toilets, Drinking Crappy Water, and Making Bad Jokes While Having the Time of My Life 

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