Kilimanjaro: Change of Plans

Breakfast at the lodge is filled with bravado, laughter, furtive glances and wringing hands. We were all anxious to get started up the mountain. Of course, life doesn’t always proceed as planned.

We headed to the park gate to check in and get our porters. Forty climbers make for a HUGE pile of gear!

After many delays getting gear and porters sorted out, weighing all the bags (all bags are limited to 33lbs.), and filling out paperwork, we left the check-in. Big rain the night before had washed out sections of the road. We had one bus and one vehicle that looked like an army truck converted into a bus. We knew our bus would not make it. The decision was made that we would drive as far as possible and then wait for the truck to come back to pick us up.

As advertised, the road was not passable. Even before we reached the impassable section, we had some interesting stops and starts, scrapes, and close calls that made some in my bus gasp. I’ve had enough 3rd world bus trips on some very dicey roads to know that there’s not really anything I can do; the driver knows a lot more about driving that road and those conditions than I do. I just sit quietly and trust.

Once we cannot go further, we unload our gear and sit under the trees, waiting for the truck. We were hoping we could walk, but are told we need to stay together with the gear. Relax. There is nothing we can do. No amount of American “but we have a schedule; we have to get this done” will change anything. Relax. Life doesn’t always proceed as planned. We pull out journals and books, Charlie naps, Brian plays guitar. This forced rest ends up being my favorite moment of the day.

Because of the unforeseen delays, we cannot make the first camp that was planned. Instead, the course is re-figured. We will camp just at the start of the trail so that we won’t be arriving into the originally planned camp well after dark. Given that several people in our group have very limited hiking and camping experience – and 2 have never slept in a tent before – not arriving after dark is an excellent idea. We’ll make up the distance later.

I find it ironic that in the bus this morning – morning which seems like it was weeks ago – I told Theresa my cancer story. How my initial diagnosis was so very different than what eventually turned out to be reality. Scans and biopsies had not shown any tumors, only widespread non-invasive DCIS. Surgery revealed 2 moderately large tumors. Final pathology reported aggressive tumors, poor margins, and a high number of positive lymph nodes. Life doesn’t always proceed as planned.

Our camp is nestled close under the trees. My tent-mate and I choose a tent far from the people who admit to being snorers in the hopes of getting a good night’s sleep. Already, some in our group are suffering from stomach problems. After dinner in our extremely long mess tent – a dinner of soup and some rice with vegetable curry – a meal we will become depressingly familiar with – we say goodnight. I lie in my sleeping bag which is far too warm for the temperatures in the lower foothills and listen to the sounds of the night. Men giggling in their tents like 7-year-olds, laughing at their bodily functions. Monkeys howling in the night. Porters softly whispering in their lilting, melodic tongue. All the quietude punctuated periodically by belches and gas. I wonder how Tim and Nina are feeling on their first-ever night in a tent.

Morning; packing; the first of the daily struggles to wrestle my thick -20 degree sleeping bag into a compression sack; breakfast of thin porridge, eggs, and hot dogs; yoga; and finally hiking.

We hike slowly in 3 groups. The pace is slow for me, but it’s fine. Most of my companions are new to this sort of thing. We’re a group; we all work together to help each other out. This trip is not about a few people getting to the top of something; this trip is about a group of ordinary people trying to do something extraordinary – together.

We make camp 2 – the Big Tree. More people are hit with stomach disorders. John, our cameraman, is hit with something else. He has an abscessed tooth. By late afternoon, the whole side of his face is swollen. There are discussions with the doctors. John is reluctant to go down the mountain. He is here to do a job and he wants to continue. The doctors are worried about his continuing up with a worsening infection. But what are the options? Lance it here on the mountain? Will that be effective? Will it be safe? Go down to Moshi? What kind of care will he find there? They decide to wait until morning to make a final decision. Morning comes and the infection is no better. John chooses to cast his lot with the doctors he knows – here, on the mountain. Syringes, alcohol preps, no anesthesia. The abscess is drained. John continues up the mountain.

Julie

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One Response to Kilimanjaro: Change of Plans

  1. gillian says:

    oh my goodness. haven’t listened to the video yet ‘cos have company and no headphones but it all sounds pretty dramatic. Poor cameraman having to have abcess drained without anaesthetic….

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