I figure it only makes sense for my very first blog post to be about where my passion for travel sprang from, and for this you have to go back a fair few years, back to my childhood in fact…
Inspiring Stories – Kilimanjaro
When I was young, I suffered from a disease called brittle bones which, as it says on the tin, caused my bones to break very easily. This prevented me from participating in many sports, going on crazy adventures and even joining in with playground games at school. My point is, I was slightly socially excluded at this point in my life.
Luckily, in my teens, I was part of a successful drug trial that vastly improved my bone strength to a point where I was almost on par with the populations’ average. Soon after the drug trial I was off to university – coupled with stronger bones and renewed confidence this was the perfect opportunity to grab life with both hands, socialise like no tomorrow and try out some new activities.
Within a few weeks I’d spotted a poster in the students union advertising a trip to climb Mount Kilimanjaro for charity. My first thought was; this is for me, I’m there, I’m going! But it was going to be tough. Altitude sickness was a real possibility and a 6-day hike was going to test my bones and knees to their limit. After some encouragement from my family I put pen to paper and signed up for the trip that would ultimately change my life…I just didn’t know it yet.
Fast forward almost a year and having reached my fundraising target I was finally on my way to Tanzania…via Switzerland and Kenya (the overnight bus ride from Nairobi to Moshi took foreeeever)!
The tour group were a great bunch (I hate calling it tour group, it was nothing like a guided tour, but trip group doesn’t roll off the tongue quite so nicely) – I was already having a great time before we’d even set eyes on Kilimanjaro. We visited a local school that the charity had built, played with the kids and learnt how donators’ money was being spent.
Then came the big day – the first day of the 4.5 day ascent (and incidentally our final shower for 6 days)! Morals were high, spirits were boosted and we all wanted to tear up that mountain, but the first lesson our guides taught us was to walk pole pole (meaning slowly slowly). So slowly we went.
To begin with it was like a walk in the park; the porters carried our bags, the cooks prepared our meals (by the way, cucumber soup is underrated!) and the guides, well, guided us up and up and down. Yes, down. On day 3 we reached an altitude of 4600m at lunchtime but then descended to 3800m to camp in order to acclimatise.
The final ascent took place 1.5 days later – it involved waking up at 11pm after just 3 hours of sleep to battle through fierce winds and chilling temperatures (the reason for making this final ascent at night is so that the scree (loose rock) is frozen in place which makes climbing more energy efficient).
We trekked steadily up a steep incline for 6 hours with rest stops every 1.5 hours. Despite breathing difficulties and splitting headaches, I successfully summited Mount Kilimanjaro at 8am on the 9th September 2012.
I don’t recall much from the final few hours before summit but I am sure of one thing – those were by far the most gruelling 9 hours of my life and it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. My only other vivid memory is of the ridiculously amazing sunrise, where the sun started off considerably below eye-level (because of our lofty position) – it might not sound great but trust me it was special!
The arduous journey back down the mountain then began; the only things keeping me going were my elastic knee braces and thoughts of a shower and a beer. Attention soon turned to planning for our onward travel – most of us opted for a few days on Zanzibar Island followed by a nature safari. So after a celebratory night in Moshi we endured a hangover from hell on-board an 8 hour bus and a 3 hour ferry. But I didn’t care, we were in Zanzibar, and it was incredible!
Running water, real toilets, luxury beds, exotic food, bar service, beach volleyball – it had it all! We snorkelled, went on boat trips, did a spice tour, wandered round the night markets and still had time to relax on the white sandy beaches.
I could’ve stayed on Zanzibar for weeks but our visas were limited so off we went back to the mainland for a 2 day nature safari. For those of you who’ve never done a safari, I can’t recommend them enough (they’re a once in a lifetime opportunity but you should try to do them more than once in your life)! You get to see some of the most amazing animals on the planet – ones that you watch in nature programmes on TV and only ever dream of seeing in real life.
The whole experience couldn’t be further from a day out to your local zoo, and that’s what I love – it’s all about witnessing these magnificent creatures in their natural habitat, even if it takes a while to find them. Throughout Tarangire and Ngorongoro we spotted Lion, Elephant, Buffalo and Rhino – 4 out of the so called “Big 5” (Leopards being nocturnal are notoriously difficult to find) – plus plenty more.
Looking back now, a 2-day safari was never enough, but it did round off two of the best weeks of my life. Two weeks that were destined to define my future…
To summarise, I had the most incredible time in Tanzania climbing Kilimanjaro – it was physically challenging, mentally rewarding, relaxing, exciting and culturally eye-opening – it had it all (no surprises that it inspired me to take on further travel)!
Perhaps the most important thing for me personally though was proving that my bones were no longer an obstacle in physically demanding situations like those that I experienced. As a result, I urge anyone that’s thinking of climbing a mountain to give Kili a go and not let physical barriers or mental doubts stop you from trying new things – if I can conquer Kilimanjaro, then there’s a damn good chance that you can too! (Plus it’s the perfect location with Zanzibar ready to welcome you for relaxation and recovery, followed by a nature safari in the African Savannah).
Seriously though, it doesn’t even have to be travel related – if you’ve been thinking of trying out a new activity lately, or maybe changing your routine, then do it – go for it, try it, see what happens, learn from it – I promise you’ll be better for it!
So there you have it, the story of where my travels all began.
Did you find it inspiring? Maybe you’ve got an interesting story of your own – where did your travels begin? Comment below and share if you like my story!