Sunday, 10 October 2010

Day 10/11 - 25th/26th September 2010

And now the end is near…

We’d been told that we had to check out of the hotel by 10 am so after what was a late night getting up and sorted wasn’t exactly what we wanted to do. Helen and I reluctantly dragged ourselves out of bed and began packing our kit bags for the final time. It seemed strange that it was all coming to an end.

Everyone in the breakfast hall seemed subdued and it was obvious that other people were feeling the same. Eventually the conversation got around to the previous nights events and it sounded as though Scotty and Paul had got up to more mischief after we had left the bar…which ended up with poor Gemma finding a giraffe in her room which, in her semi conscious state, had scared her half to death!

The breakfast offering was a terrible as it had been every other day but that didn’t stop Ram tucking in to a plate of six fried eggs…he’d obviously been missing his protein on the mountain!

After breakfast we literally dragged our kit bags down the stairs and through to the reception ready for loading aboard the buses later in the day…my mind wandered back to the first day when the girl, no older than 12, had carried my kit bag to my room and I felt slightly ashamed.

We were not due to be collected for the transfer to Kili airport until about 4.30 so we had several hours to kill and as the weather was quite good everyone gathered around the pool, drinking beer, chatting and listening to music. You could tell that everyone was beginning to think of home and were sad that our amazing adventure was nearly over. It was while we were sat there that Megan decided to look at her flight details to see what time the actual flight from Kilimanjaro to Nairobi was. We couldn’t believe it when her bit of paper said that she was on the 3.30pm flight! Everyone hurriedly got out their own details and we discovered that 7 of the group were on a different flight to everyone else and if they were going to get it they needed to leave the hotel in the next half hour. Thankfully Jenny, the trek leader, was still at the hotel and quickly organised a bus to take them. I was completely gutted because out of the 4pinkbras I was the only one on the later flight which meant that we were being separated again.

Goodbyes were hurriedly said and everyone was bundled onto the bus. They would have a 7 hour wait at Nairobi until we arrived later to meet them and I didn’t envy them, it was the worst airport on the planet. The rest of the day passed slowly but gave me a chance to chat to a few people that I hadn’t really had the chance to before, Paul D, Lynn, Gilly, Matt and Claire. We eventually left the hotel, with one last group photo on the steps and headed for Kilimanjaro airport. I sat next to Scotty on the bus and we discussed the last week and our two differing journeys and I continued to be proud of being his Kili Mum.

The wait at Kilimanjaro seemed to take forever, not helped by our flight being delayed, according to the announcement ‘for personal reasons!’ – only in Africa!!

We landed in Nairobi and I rushed to meet the rest of the group. We knew they would be camped in the café that Scotty and Paul had found on the way out. It was great to see them all and we sat chatting for an hour until it was time to board the flight. Once again we were scattered all over the place on the plane and I ended up sitting with Paul L and Matt. I was asleep before we left the ground, something that had never happened to me before!

Landing back in the UK the following morning reality began to sink in. We were home and it would soon be time to say goodbye to all the people we had become close to over the last 10 days. There were hugs and plenty of tears. Seeing grown men cry is always hard and in the highly emotional state I had found myself over the last week it certainly wasn’t easy now.

My family were waiting for me at the exit and I literally threw myself at my husband, so relieved and glad to see him. It was brilliant to see the kids too and I embarrassed my daughter by asking Scotty to marry her…never mind the fact that she is only 15!! I pretty much ran out of the terminal, not because I couldn’t wait to get away, but because I couldn’t bear to say goodbye.

The last 10 days had been an amazing adventure. Completely different from the one I had gone for but amazing all the same. At times I felt totally traumatised, at others totally elated. It had been the most awesome, tortuous, brilliant, terrible, long, short, worst and best 10 days ever and I knew that it had changed me for good.

Sharing that experience with such wonderful people had made it incredibly special. I need to thank Helen in particular for keeping me sane when my emotions were running wild and Annemarie and Audra for going along with the mad idea in the first place and succeeding so brilliantly, I couldn't be more proud!  Helen's adventurous nature meant that our week on Kili had been an incredible one, one that I will never forget, but I can tell you without a shadow of a doubt it will be one that I will NEVER repeat!!

To the rest of my Kili family, I love you all xxxx

Saturday, 9 October 2010

Day 9 - 24th September 2010

The Kili family get together

I woke up feeling more positive than I had all week, probably because I knew that everyone was on their way down from the mountain. We had been told that the first of the guys would be arriving back at Marangu gate by 2pm so we had the morning to while away. The sun had finally decided to put in an appearance so after breakfast everyone gathered by the pool for a bit of sunshine. It was actually too hot to sit in for long, so I found a bit of shade and plugged myself into my i-pod.

The AWC man arrived to inform us that he was unable to organise a bus to take us to the gate and that we would have to arrange a taxi ourselves. Donna, Paula and Karen decided that they didn’t want to go so it would just be the four of us, myself, Helen, Ronnie and Kirsty. I must admit that I found it difficult to understand why they wouldn’t want to be there to meet everyone, especially to see Kim who had summited without her buddies. Ok we hadn’t achieved what we’d come out here for but that shouldn’t stop us congratulating everyone else and I wouldn’t miss it for the world. We had left our close friends up there and knew they would be feeling absolutely shattered at the end of a hard 19km walk out today. I personally couldn’t wait to see everyone, to hear their stories and celebrate their wonderful achievement.

Organising a taxi seemed to be the hardest thing in the world and it looked at one point as though we wouldn’t be able to go. I was gutted, however AWC man came back mid morning and said that a minibus would be arriving at 1pm to take us to the gate. Helen and I decided to buy everyone a bottle of water and excitedly set off with Ronnie and Kirsty. On the way to the gate we saw a magnificent view of Kibo and Mawenzi so got the driver to stop. It hadn’t been until that very morning that I had actually seen Kilimanjaro in its full glory and I couldn’t quite comprehend that the rest of the group had been at the top just the night before.

Arriving at the gate we thought we would have about an hour wait until anyone came through. There were lots of other trekkers from other groups milling about, all looking a bit shell shocked. We decided to take a look around to find exactly the point where we would have the best chance of spotting one of our guys. It was at this point that I heard someone shouting “Debbie”. I had one of those ‘please don’t tell me I’ve just bumped into someone from home moments’ when I saw Paul Davies come sauntering over looking as fresh as a daisy! We all had a bit of an over excited moment at that point and he downed a bottle of water followed by a bottle of Kili beer! He looked like he’d lost a lot of weight but looked absolutely amazing. He had ran down the last bit and thought the others would be about half an hour behind. It wasn’t long before, Scotty, Paul L, Ram, Megan and Gilly arrived too. It was so great to see them all and it was hugs all round. Scotty looked completely wasted, I’d never seen anyone look so tired and still being able to walk! I was so relieved to see Paul and to know that he was safe too and I was so, so glad we had gone. It seemed to raise everyone’s spirit and even though the group had been parted earlier in the week I felt like it was back to being whole again.

Others were arriving, stories being exchanged, water and beers being drunk, photos being taken. The most heart warming reunion took place between Kirsty and her Dad Ivie. They both looked equally proud of each other and had grins from ear to ear. I suddenly heard my name once again and was told that Annemarie and Audra were coming through. Helen and I rushed to the gate and I don’t even have the words to describe how brilliant it was to see them. They looked absolutely knackered and the filthiest they had ever been. We hugged, laughed and cried all at the same time. Perfect.

Once everyone had arrived, Jenny signed the book and we all climbed aboard the buses to take us back to the hotel. It was brilliant to hear everyone’s tales and the group spirit seemed really high, despite the exhaustion on their faces.

We arrived back at the hotel at about 4.30 and everyone scurried off to find their rooms and spend the next few hours trying to get clean.

We met at 7pm for a celebration dinner, where certificates were handed out to all those who’d summited and medals given to everyone for participating. It was a nice gesture and set us all up for retiring to the bar for a few drinks!

I had taken up drinking Kilimanjaro beer whilst on this trip…mainly because there was a t-shirt in the hotel shop that had the slogan ‘if you can’t climb it…drink it’! and was happy to sit in front of the chimnea chatting and having a laugh in to the early hours. The drinks flowed and every one was having a great time. The power kept coming and going so when it went off once again Megan stood and gave us a rendition of The Penguin Song, a favourite from the mountain! It was hilarious and Megan did so well to keep it going when the power came back on and she was in full view for the whole bar to see! As the night went on, Scotty and Paul got funnier and funnier and we giggled like school kids as they moved all the wooden animals about the hotel, beers and vodka (in Scotty’s case) obviously making this a lot funnier than it sounds now! It had been the perfect end to a perfect day.

As Helen and I headed back to our room we agreed that it had been a brilliant night and how sad it was that tomorrow we would all be heading home. Our adventure was nearly over.

Friday, 8 October 2010

Day 8 - 23rd September 2010

News from the summit

They did it!! We received a text at 8.30 am telling us that Audra, Annemarie and Paul had made the summit, it read:

We did it in eight hours, bloody tough but worth it. Feel a bit sick and got a bad head. Got an eight hour walk to next camp now, love to you both x

I can’t tell you how wonderful it was to get that message. I was so proud of them all I could burst and immediately text back to tell them how bloody amazing they were. It was so great to be able to text home and let all their families know that they had achieved something so awesome.

News came later that everyone except Scotty, Megan and Claire had made the summit and I really felt for those guys, knowing they were so near and yet so far. I hoped that Scotty and Megan wouldn’t beat themselves up over missing out on a photo by a piece of wood and that they would focus on what they had achieved at such a young age.

Karen arrived during that morning and we all gathered round to hear her story and see how she was. It was clear that it was no party up there and Karen was shell shocked that she had seen a lady at deaths door on the trek down. We heard later that someone had died that day and it seemed more than likely that it was the lady Karen had seen.

I felt for Kim who had stayed on the mountain and made the summit on her own having had Donna, Paula and then Karen taken down from her group. At least Annemarie and Audra had each other.

We excitedly made plans to go to the Marangu gate to meet everyone as they arrived back and asked the main man from the African Walking Company to make sure we were there at the right time. The day went by in a bit of a blur to be honest and I can’t really think of anything that happened. I had developed a chesty cough, not surprising really given the amount of chest infections around me, so when Helen took herself and Embesi off to another more local hospital to check out what facilities they had I decided to sit by the pool, the weather having made a turn for the better.

My ipod got a good airing that day as I switched my ears off to all going on around me. I couldn’t wait to see the others and I sat wishing the day away.

Day 7 - 22nd September 2010

Back to school

Helen and I decided that we wanted to make the most of being in Tanzania and to soak up as much of the local culture as possible and with this in mind asked Embesi to arrange for us to visit a local primary school. Ronnie needed to rest and the others girls weren’t up for joining us so the pair of us put on our walking boots again (we were still wearing the same clothes as we had all week, with the odd t-shirt change here and there!) and trekked out of the hotel up the track towards the school. The sign for the school was just up from the hotel, past Mammas place and we thought we would be there within 10 minutes. Wrong!

As we got to the top of the track we turned off the path and headed into the jungle at the foothills of Kilimanjaro. Neither of us had brought our walking poles and found it quite difficult to negotiate the steep muddy track that had been made worse with the heavy downpour we had had earlier that morning. Embesi had never been to the school either so our ‘guide’ was basically going on instinct as we made our way up the hill. Half way up we came across a lady with a little girl. Embesi spoke to her and we discovered that her daughter was unwell and they were heading for a medical centre next to the primary school. This lady just smiled at us as we continued on, slipping every few paces, looking ever the novice trekkers! She however, managed to stay dignified and upright in her flip flops whilst carrying the child across her shoulders!

We eventually came across a clearing and two young boys came cautiously towards us to help direct us to the school. As we approached the school it was obvious that it was a lot bigger than we thought it was going to be. We had emptied our Kili stash of sweets into two carrier bags thinking that there may be enough to go round but we later found out that there were 600 children in attendance at the school. A few of the younger ones were coming out of school and heading back down the hill for home. They stopped to stare at us and we offered them jelly babies. I had to eat one myself before they took their chance but it was smiles all round once they had got the taste! We took some photos and they were so excited to see themselves on the screen it was heart warming. I wondered what they made of these strange white women and hoped that they didn’t feel patronised in anyway.

We headed in to the school grounds, past a football pitch with goals made of sticks and I immediately thought of Scotty. I knew he would love to be here and to have a game of footie with these kids and thought it was such a shame that those still on the mountain wouldn’t share in this wonderful experience. The headmaster’s office beckoned and the lovely, big smiling, Tim welcomed us to his school. An Oxford University calendar was hung on the wall and Tim looked at us with some reverence when we said we lived in Oxford! He gratefully accepted the bags of sweets but explained that he would have to keep them for excellent work due to the numbers in the school. He proudly showed us round and took us into a class where the students were studying. The children sat straight and proud and were very pleased to show us their exercise books. The classroom was barely more than 4 walls and a roof. The floor was mud, the desks old and battered, there was no glass in the windows. There was absolutely nothing else in there, no pictures, no toys, no books, no aids to help their education in anyway, just an empty room other than a treasured chalk board. They stood and sung the national anthem and I bet you can’t guess what I did then…oh ok you guessed, I cried once again!

We took photos and the kids were so excited. They all wanted to have their picture taken and then to look at themselves on the screen. They laughed hysterically at their own images and I was humbled yet again.

Helen and I asked Tim what he needed for the school and took the address so that we could try to send him out a box of bits. The kids outside were enjoying their break and came rushing over to see us, desperate to see what we were all about. Some children were playing with a ball and it was then that I realised that it was made of rags tied to together with string. A ball and pump went straight to the top of my wish list for these kids.

Before leaving we visited the school kitchen. All the vegetables were grown on site and the chef proudly showed us around. Helen and I were amazed and awestruck at the same time. The chef was an old man, and he was cooking on the floor, on a pile of wood. There were vats of maize and beans being prepared for lunch. He smiled at us and proudly posed for a photo. I wished my own children could be there to see these images and hoped that they would appreciate everything they had back home.

Absolutely everyone we met that morning had a ready smile. All these people had so little but they seemed genuinely happy and very appreciative of our visit. We left feeling totally humbled and I knew this day would stay with me forever.

We managed to slip and slide our way back down the track, passing men with machetes collecting firewood. At one point I went arse over tit so to speak and ended up on the floor with a pain in my backside! A little old man came rushing down the hill behind me and I was totally overwhelmed when he handed me a walking pole that he had crafted out of a branch.

We met everyone else at Mamma’s for lunch and regaled them with our stories. Whilst we had been away they had heard that Karen was on her way down, another chest infection had taken hold. Everyone up there was in my thoughts all the time and I wondered what lay ahead for them tonight, the summit night. Rubens reported back that Scotty and Megan were struggling too and I couldn’t wait for tonight to be over and know that they were all heading back down the mountain. I had come to the conclusion that the mountain didn’t want such huge numbers of people on it and it was trying to tell us something. (God, I’d never been this philosophical before!!)

Another restless night followed and I hoped that there would be news in the morning.

Day 6 - 21st September 2010

Lets make the most of being here

It had been decided the night before that we would get out of the hotel and do something today. Kirsty wasn’t up to it and stayed resting in her room and with there still not being any news on Ronnie we decided to get Embesi and Rubens to take the four of us to the waterfalls in Marangu. After swearing that I wouldn’t wear my boots ever again I happily put them on and prepared for the trek down the ravine to the base of the waterfall.

We walked through a banana plantation, through a village with well presented huts, past a beautifully built church and arrived at the top of the ravine ready to trek down. It was absolutely beautiful and I felt terribly guilty that I was actually enjoying myself whilst our fellow trekkers were suffering god knows what trials up on the mountain. At the base of the ravine we made our way across the stepping stones, trying not to fall in! Both Donna and Helen got to test the waterproof status of their boots and we eventually made it to the base of the waterfall. It was stunning. The cameras came out and I felt like we were on some surreal holiday adventure. Embesi in particular seemed to be really enjoying himself and I wondered how often he got to do things like this…not often at all I bet.

After a short time we made our way back up the ravine, a little tricky at times, and headed back to the hotel and then Mamma’s for lunch. Lovely Kirsty joined us and it was good to see a smile on her face. She had left her Dad on the mountain and you could see that she was clearly worrying about him.

That afternoon we heard that Ronnie was still on his way down. The doctor had come back down to the second camp and slept there overnight, very worried about Ronnie’s health and in fact whether he was going to make it. I asked the hotel reception to inform me immediately if there was any further news, determined to go to the hospital to meet Ronnie as it was certainly no place to be on your own when you are so unwell.

It was all this stressing and worrying that prompted Donna to tell me to get a grip!
‘You’re not Mother fucking Teresa!’. From that moment on that became my nickname and I was happy to be the butt of the jokes about me not being an emotional person in ‘normal’ life. I think this trip had pretty much changed that for good!

After another trip to Mamma’s for dinner, a wonderful plate of chips and chilli sauce, the other girls headed to their room for the night. Helen and I sat in the bar and decided to order ourselves a double whilst Helen contacted Charity Challenge on the internet, trying for the umpteenth time to give them all the details needed for the insurance claim. You’d have thought we were the first people ever to be brought down from the mountain, and after all the stories we had heard over the last couple of days we knew that wasn’t true.

I’d just taken a sip from my drink when Betty came to find me to tell me that Ronnie was in reception!! I couldn’t believe it and rushed to see him. His breathing was very laboured, he didn’t look too good but he was still smiling. I was outraged to learn that he was brought to the hotel first in order to get some money to pay for the hospital. WTF!! This guy was at deaths door yesterday and here he was having to worry about money. I quickly grabbed Helen and we gathered some supplies ready for the hour and half trip to the hospital. Ronnie’s breathing seemed to ease a little as he relaxed nearing the hospital. It wasn’t just his asthma that was a problem, he had an increased heart rate too but I hoped that having myself and Helen there would help reduce his stress levels.

Once we arrived I was so glad that we had been there before. We knew the procedure. Another two hours passed waiting to be seen, the night-time casualty dept quite different from the day. There were less people but the reasons they were there were more serious. There appeared to be only one doctor. Malaria victims were still writhing about in pain but also in full view for everyone to see was a young man who had been attacked with a machete, blood pouring out all over the trolley he was laid on despite having a temporary bandage put on.

A lady brought in with pale white, pot marked skin, her face disfigured – my first experience of seeing a Leper, and worst of all a teenage girl, screaming in pain, barely able to walk, collapsing in the corridor. The doctor and nurses rushed to her and took her immediately away. We stood there shell shocked, Ronnie feeling that he was actually very well compared to the other people here.

Eventually the Doctor got round to Ronnie. He was very apologetic at the long wait. We replied that he was clearly very busy and he smiled and said this was a quiet night. He was sorry that he had to rush off before…the teenage girl had a ruptured bowel and had been raped. Her screams will be in my head for some time to come. We couldn’t wait to get Ronnie back to safety and the hotel. His heart rate was still high but Helen’s medical knowledge and the stash of anti-biotics we had between us persuaded the doctor to let Ronnie return to the hotel for some rest. There was absolutely no way we were going to let him stay there!

We made it back to the hotel for 2 am but the fun wasn't over there! Not long after the taxi had left the site I realised that I had lost my phone. Myself, Helen, Ronnie and Isaac were all scrabbling around in the dark outside the hotel trying to see if I'd dropped it getting out of the cab. It was so dark we couldn't see a thing and decided that it was probably still in the taxi. Helen came up with the bright idea of calling my phone so that the taxi driver would hear it! I couldn't believe it when I heard my phone ringing and spotted its sparkly pink case lying face down in the dirt right outside the hotel entrance, how the taxi didn't run over it I'll never know! I was so relieved to find it as it had been the only way we had any contact with Annemarie and Audra on the mountain. We then went to go into the hotel and realised that it had been locked up and we couldn't get in! At this point I think we all had a fit of giggles because it had seemed that this evening had been one thing after the other! Thankfully the little old man who had got out of his bed to open the gate to the hotel site came to our rescue again and went round the side entrance to open the door and let us in. It had been a very long day but at gone 2 o'clock in the morning we were really happy to hear Ronnie talking about food – a sure sign that his condition was improving!!

Day 5 - 20th September 2010

The alternative Kili experience

After another night of little sleep and feeling emotionally drained the four Kili rejects met for an early breakfast. A taxi had been organised by Rubens (Donna’s guide) to collect her for the hospital at 8 am. It was an hour and a half journey to Moshi to the Kilimanjaro Christian  Medical Centre, the ‘best’ hospital in the area. It was decided that all four of us should go. Helen was feeling better and her medical knowledge would come in useful, Paula needed to get herself checked out too and as my stomach had improved I didn’t want to be left at the hotel on my own.

Rubens sat in the front and us four girls literally squeezed into the back of the cab. No mention or in fact possibility of wearing seatbelts here! Again we headed up the dirt track, swerving from left to right to avoid the potholes! Donna’s eyes were not so good and she needed to ‘see’ the consultant. When we got to the hospital it was clear that the ‘best’ hospital in the area was not somewhere where you would want to spend any length of time. To call it primitive would be an understatement. It was as dirty inside as it was out and there were not enough medical staff for the number of people presenting themselves at the casualty department, which was nothing more than a corridor split in half, one side where you wait, the other where you get seen.
We needed to pay $50 to create a file in order for Paula to be seen so we wandered off round the hospital trying to find where we had to go. After a couple of hours Paula and I were steered towards the triage corridor and left to wait whilst Helen and Donna went off to find the eye specialist.
Sat in that corridor, surrounded by people with Malaria and who knows what other issues, not being able to understand the language and worrying about everyone on and off the mountain, I had never felt so vulnerable.
I will never forget the young boy, no more than 10, sat alone next to me and Paula, obviously in a lot of pain from Malaria. I remembered that I had a bag of Minstrels in my pocket and got them out to give to him. His eyes were full of pain and he looked at the bag not understanding what to do with it. He broke my heart there and then. I showed him how to open the bag and tried to explain that it was chocolate to eat. A doctor eventually came to get him and I wondered why this little lad was on his own, how he had even managed to get to the hospital in such obvious pain and whether he would even survive to see another birthday. My brain was beginning to implode.

After another couple of hours waiting Paula was eventually called in and to our surprise was seen by a ‘white’ doctor! Checks and tests were quickly done but she couldn’t find either of the two thermometers that existed in A&E so Paula’s temperature couldn’t be taken. I couldn’t believe how poorly equipped this place was and the reality of all those news programmes and TV documentaries about Africa smacked me firmly in the face. The doc wanted to test Paula for Malaria but as this involved taking blood we made it clear that it wasn't going to happen...I think she was a bit confused and offended but the health risks of giving some blood were clear to see.

With anti-biotics administered and Donna being given the good news that her eyes were definitely improving we piled back in the taxi and headed for Moshi town. As we were all having extended stays at the hotel, and they didn’t take the emergency credit cards we were all told to bring(?!), we needed to get cash from a bank to pay the hotel bill.
We needed about $300 each but the bank wouldn’t give out that amount of money and again we all felt very vulnerable withdrawing huge wads of cash in a country where the average living wage is $2 a day. It was fair to say we pretty much stood out from the crowd, especially me with my bleach blond hair! We withdrew what we could and Rubens steered us to a nearby pub for a much needed late lunch, hoping that the we wouldn't get food poisoning along the way!

After lunch we headed back to Marangu and the hotel, stopping at one point to hand out some pens to some school kids on their way home. You’d have thought they had just won the lottery…yet another emotional moment to set me off again! I couldn’t believe what this trip was doing to my head, my senses had never felt so battered.

Nearly home the taxi driver demanded more money for the extra waiting time there had been at the hospital. Rubens and him were clearly cooking something up between them and were both obviously aware that we all had a lot of cash on us. An argument started between Donna and Rubens and it was quite clear the taxi driver was getting very agitated. At one point he got on his mobile and had a very animated conversation with someone. Helen and I kept looking at each other wondering if he was calling up his mates and whether we were about to get abducted or worse. The air was blue but eventually we got back to the hotel and Donna and Paula went off leaving me and Helen with Rubens and the driver. We gave him half the extra money that he wanted and suffered the wrath of ‘The Ayatollah Donna’ later for it!!

Embesi later arrived at the hotel with the news that there were more people coming down from the mountain. My heart sank, all he knew was that one of the young girls had a chest infection and that Ronnie was seriously ill and was being stretchered down on oxygen with the doctor in tow. It was likely that Ronnie would be going straight to the hospital. I was desperate for news and couldn’t wait for this week to be over.

It was such a relief to see little Kirsty walking through the hotel and I rushed to give her a hug. She brought news that everyone else was doing well but that she didn’t know how Ronnie was and actually didn’t know that he was in trouble until she had got down to the gate.

Embesi took us to Mama Jocy’s food emporium for dinner – a small bar just up the track from the hotel. Children that lived on site came to say hi and we gave them jelly babies and chocolate…we had made friends for life! Our spirits lifted and we learnt a lot from Embesi about the country and the people we were surrounded by. The food was bountiful, fresh, very good and very cheap – everything the hotel food wasn’t and we decided that this would be where we ate from now on.

An early night was called for and we crashed into bed. Unfortunately the brain was working overtime and Helen and I ended up talking into the early hours, worrying about Ronnie and the others, trying to work out how this trip would change us and what the future held, laughing, crying. Thank god for Helen, I would have been carted off to the funny farm if it wasn’t for her!

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Day 4 - 19th September 2010

Anyone for porridge?

By breakfast I wasn’t feeling too good and it had become apparent that Helen, one of my 4pinkbras, really wasn’t looking too good either. She had been up all night being sick and was feeling totally dehydrated. News quickly went round the camp that Donna was also suffering and that she had woken up to find that she couldn’t see for more than a few feet. I couldn’t believe how badly I took this news. I’m not normally an outwardly emotional person, I’m more of a grit your teeth, smile and bear it sort of person but this mountain was already getting under my skin and the people with it. I went for breakfast not feeling like eating anything and absolutely knackered from no sleep to find myself in front of a bowl of porridge with a layer of mountain dust inside it. I took one look and knew that I would not be eating this morning.

Once camp was packed up we set off and it was quickly obvious that Helen would not be able to continue on. She was throwing up every ten steps and couldn’t even keep water down. Donna had insisted that she wanted to carry on and I became increasingly agitated and worried that there could be serious implications for her. Eventually the doctor decided that Helen shouldn’t continue and Donna realised that things weren’t going to get better by continuing up. It was a massive blow to lose two from the team so early on and the tears flowed as myself and Audra tried to catch up with the rest of the group who by now were way ahead. As we headed up the hill I realised that my energy levels were very low and I was getting waves of nausea coming over me. We made it to a rest stop where the others were waiting for us and the group went quiet as they realised that Helen and Donna were no longer with us. I think I probably embarrassed myself by blubbing on Paul L’s shoulder at this point!!

We set off again to trek up to the lunch camp. When we arrived I was hit by nausea again and lunch didn’t pass my lips. A couple of trips to the ‘tent of hell’ ensued followed by a nose bleed at which point I decided to have a chat with Claire. I had become an emotional wreck in a matter of hours and was finding it hard to hold myself together. I was worried that I had Helen’s bug and didn’t want it to pass throughout the camp but I also didn’t want to let anyone down. I was also stressing about Helen and Donna, much more than normal for me. I learnt a valuable lesson in those few hours…Yeah I’ve come through breast cancer and I thought I was strong, I thought I could do anything I wanted and I thought I was invincible, well wise up lady your not. Dealing with your own pain is one thing but dealing with other people’s is another. Paula was also struggling at this point and was having quite serious breathing difficulties. The DVT issue reared its ugly head in my pea brain again and I sat, with blood pouring out of my nose, wondering if any of this was worth risking my health for. Martin would kill me if I put myself in danger. I knew that if it was decided that I shouldn’t carry on then I would be able to walk down to the gate today but if I went higher to the next camp it would be another matter. Jenny came over and we discussed my medical history. She walked off but not quite far enough and I heard her say to Passien ‘she’s had cancer get her off of here’. That was enough for me as my final bit of determination crumbled. I’d never felt such a failure in my entire life. I was angry with myself for thinking I could do this so soon after treatment and surgery and even more angry with myself for dragging four perfectly sane friends into doing it too.­­

Saying goodbye to everyone was the hardest thing ever. Leaving Audra and Annemarie was heartbreaking but I knew that they would be fine together and that they wouldn't put themselves at risk - being a Mum came first for both of them and they would look out for each other. I would worry too about Paul L, my lovely boss, who was determined to make it to the top and would probably push himself too hard. I knew I was going to miss out on an amazing experience, a bonding experience that would tie the whole group together for years to come but I also knew that if my immune system was telling me things weren’t right it was safer to listen to it now than be sorry later.

The kindness shown to me in those final moments in camp will stay with me forever. Ryan, who I think I had only had one proper conversation with, came over and asked me if he could take my breast cancer badge to the summit for me. I didn’t even know that anyone else was aware I had one on my rucksack. Paul L and Scotty offered to be the 2 pink bras replacing me and Helen and pink bras were quickly removed from bags and banded about the camp. Audra and Annemarie, my two lovely, brave great friends being just that. Paul gave me the tightest hug as we said goodbye and yes you can guess, I embarrassed myself yet again by blubbing on his shoulder!!

The Kili family, 4 down.
I cried as I said goodbye and I cried even more as Paula and I walked away from camp to a round of applause.

It took us 6 hours to walk down by which time it was pitch black and the jungle was making some very strange noises. We had been walking for a total of 11 hours, my feet as well as my head and stomach were hurting and I was glad to see the lights of the ‘ambulance’ making its way up a dirt track towards us, saving us a further half hour of walking back to the gate. Embesi, our ever trusty guide, stayed with us the whole way, he himself not feeling very well having just completed a summit trek only a few days before.

The ambulance journey was quite something else. Paula and I were crammed in the back with two porters, our kits bags and rucksacks and the track we took was enough to give anyone brain damage, to call it off road driving would be a massive understatement! We eventually made it to the gate where we had to sign the book to say we had left the mountain and why. I couldn’t believe the number of names in that book and the fact that there were other names between Donna and Helen who had left us just that morning.

The ambulance took us back to the hotel where Paula and I were given a room to share. After showering and removing the filth and grime from the mountain, we tracked Helen and Donna down. They had spent the afternoon at the hospital and it quickly became apparent that Donna did exactly the right thing by coming down. Mountain Blindness was very common and quite often the person’s eyesight doesn’t come back. I had a restless night, still unable to eat anything, feeling quite rough but also listening out for Paula who’s breathing was very laboured. Donna had to go back to the hospital in Moshi the following day and I decided that I would be taking Paula too.

Day 3 - 18th September 2010

Off we go!

I managed to get a reasonable nights sleep considering we were in a strange country and about to take on the toughest challenge of our lives. The rain was hammering it down when we were woken by the hotel early alarm call. I can’t remember exactly what Audra and I said to each other but I’m pretty sure it involved the word SHIT or FUCK!
We got ourselves sorted and went down to meet everyone for breakfast, knowing full well that we should tuck in to what could possibly be our last half decent meal. Actually it wasn’t even half decent as the hotel food was pretty damn bland! We all took our bags down to reception, everyone discussing how much their bags weighed like our lives actually depended on it. The one person that stood out on this front was Scotty who somehow managed to have 3 kilos less kit than everyone else, I don’t think we ever did discover why! It was quite hilarious to see that between Donna, Karen and Paula L they had taken 5 carrier bags of stuff out of their kit bags to leave at the hotel…god alone knows what was in them but knowing Donna and Karen it was probably bottles of Laurent Perrier!!

Another 2 hour bus journey round to the Rongai gate followed and more sights of the real Tanzania battered our senses along the way. We looked so touristy sat in our buses taking photos out of the windows; women walking along the road carrying huge bunches of bananas on their heads; children walking god knows how many miles to school; market stalls selling home grown vegetables; men making bricks by the side of the road; donkeys pulling carts; men pulling carts; cows wandering around aimlessly. The poverty was striking but even more so was the dignity and pride of the people we were gauping at. I felt uncomfortable being on the inside looking out and wondered what they were thinking about us as they looked in.

We eventually arrived at the park gate and briefly met the guides and porters that were to become our heroes over the coming days. A new toilet block had recently been built and all us ladies rushed off for the last wee on a proper toilet…oh the luxury!

The hotel had given us all a packed lunch and we were told to eat it here before we set off so that the lunch boxes could be returned. Everyone was feeling nervous but also excited that everything we had been working towards over the last year was finally about to start. Jenny completed all the paperwork at the gate, every one had to be signed on to the mountain and then eventually signed off it too.

We set off, everyone chatting to who ever was close by, there was plenty of laughter and everyone seemed happy to finally be under way. We weren’t long into the 4 hour trek when we came across a clearing with some shacks and a few children came rushing over. Their little faces, covered in dirt, wearing clothes that had clearly seen much better days many years ago, a little hand held out in anticipation and the word chocolate quietly escaping from their lips. My heart melted and I felt terrible that I had eaten mine from my lunch box only an hour earlier. Thankfully Annemarie was behind me and she still had hers. She handed it over and you would have thought she had given them gold.

Certain people in the group were beginning to make an impression on me and Scotty in particular struck me as a young man who was much more of a deep thinker than he liked to let on. He won my heart with his reasons for taking on the trek and I absolutely insisted that I was going to be his Kili mum, a title that I had to battle several of the other old biddies to keep!! I just want to put it on the record that I am very proud of you my Kili son. Xx

At some point during these few hours I had my first ever wee outdoors, well as an adult that is! I couldn’t have been more proud!!

Getting into the first camp was very exciting and we were told to choose a tent for the night. Audra and I headed for the one next to the toilet tent, with the idea that we wouldn’t have to go far should we be caught short in the night. Oh my goodness, what a mistake to make!

After unpacking our kit bags, inflating our thermarests and getting our sleeping bags out we tried to find a spot within the tent that didn’t have a rock under. In the end Audra and I decided that we would have to sleep side ways in the tent and have the rocks between us in the middle and we had to giggle when I discovered that I was longer than the tent was wide!

We headed off to the mess tent for our first experience of mountain cooking and ended up sitting with Julie and Louise, two ladies that I hadn’t had a chance to speak as yet. They quickly became known as Thelma & Louise and we all had a good laugh at our end of the table. There were large plates of popcorn and flasks of ginger tea and plain boiled water. Milo (the drink of future champions!) and hot chocolate were available too. We couldn’t believe our eyes when pots of roast potatoes and plates of fish arrived and we eagerly all tucked in amazed that such food could be cooked in these conditions. From down the other end of the table we could hear that there was some discussion going on about the fish but it didn’t become obvious until the following morning that indeed it was the very serious issue of ‘the fishgate scandal!’.

Back in our tent and being virgin campers we hadn’t even considered that if we needed to go to the toilet then every other bugger in the camp would too and what with hearing every single wee that happened that night and the herd of elephants stampeding through the tent next door (or was that Ronnie snoring?!!) Audra and I managed very little sleep at all. I began to feel really nauseous through the night and my heart was racing. I got up at 4.30am and decided that a trip to the ‘tent of hell’ was the only option. I was feeling quite disorientated and very nearly went flying, practically taking the toilet tent out with me! The stars were majestical though and I sight I will never forget.

Day 2 - 17th September 2010

Reality Hits

I knew I would be shattered by the time we reached Nairobi but once there we all regrouped and found ourselves a lovely spot on the floor for the four hours we had to wait for our connecting flight to Tanzania. Scotty and Paul D went off on a scouting expedition and eventually came back to excitedly report that they had found a café with seats and everything! Believe me that was very appealing in the oppressive hell-hole that is Nairobi airport but unfortunately coffees were already in hand and the group decided to stay put in fear of losing the one available seating area to be had (the floor!). There were rumours going around that Ronnie had managed to get himself, Gemma and Paula into the first class lounge and we all jealously wished we were there too.
Eventually we boarded the flight to Kilimanjaro, a dual prop plane that wasn’t powered by elastic bands…a vast improvement on what I had been expecting! The 50 minute flight took us over the top of Mt Kilimanjaro to the left and Mt Meru to the right. Meru was imposing its way through the clouds and I was grateful not to be sat on the left hand side of the plane because I really didn’t want to see what we were about to climb.
A big sigh of relief came from various members of the gang once we had landed and we all excitedly had photos taken outside with the ‘Kilimanjaro Airport’ sign in the background. The kit bags were unceremoniously thrown on top of two rickety old buses and we were loaded on board for the 2 ½ hour transfer to the hotel. The journey was quite some introduction to Africa and it became quite clear what a culture shock we were in for. The roads in themselves were a challenge, mostly just dirt tracks, and even though they officially drive on the left hand side the driver pretty much drove wherever he could to avoid the potholes in the road. On several occasions it seemed as though there would be a head on collision but these guys were obviously used to it and yet another near death experience didn’t seem to throw them at all.
Arriving at the Kilimanjaro Mountain Resort Hotel brought relief for everyone but I couldn’t believe my eyes when a very young girl insisted on carrying my kit bag up the three flights of stairs to our room…my first taste of being humbled by these lovely people.
Unpacking, packing, weighing, unpacking, packing, weighing took over the time before dinner and the team talk. At dinner our leader Jenny went over what to expect on the trek and for the first time we were all firmly brought back to reality when the first thing she asked for was our next of kin details.
I was already feeling very nervous about the health implications of altitude for myself in particular. The night before the trek I had received an email from the trek doctor informing me that the medication I was on would put me at greater risk of a DVT at altitude and that this should have been discussed with my oncologist. Needless to say that at this late stage no discussions had taken place and it completely threw me. I’d already put my family through so much over the last couple of years the thought of something so dangerous happening half way up a mountain was a little difficult to deal with. I decided to take aspirin with me to help thin my blood and Claire (the doc) explained what symptoms I should look out for. Not a good start. It really didn’t help that whilst checking out the hotel myself, Paul and Helen came across a woman sat by the pool who regaled us with her recent Kilimanjaro experience. This had involved getting HACE and HAPE at quite low altitude and being literally dragged back down the mountain by her guide only to fall into a coma for four days. The hospital had phoned her next of kin to inform them that she was unlikely to come home. When she came round she didn’t know who she was, who her partner was, what had happened and where she had been. Not funny. The three of us felt a bit shell shocked from that little chat but I think for me in particular I had begun the slippery slope of self doubt and worry that was to be a huge learning curve for me over the next few days.

After dinner we met in the bar. Everyone was beginning to relax around each other and we had a few laughs before returning to our rooms to make sure that our bags were packed correctly and weighed no more than the maximum 15 kgs – just in case we had got it wrong on the previous 10 occasions we had checked!!

Day 1 - 16th September 2010

And so the journey begins…Kilimanjaro or BUST.

It had been about 14 months since that fateful evening in the pub, when too many glasses of wine had lead to the ridiculous idea that 4 forty something ladies-wot-lunch could possibly somehow exchange their high heels and lip gloss for walking boots, tents and shit buckets and drag their sorry arses up a 19,340ft mountain.

What the hell were we thinking? This was the only thought going through my head as we arrived at Heathrow airport at the beginning of our African adventure. Walking into the departures area it didn’t take long to spot a few familiar faces and I really appreciated the facebook group that had been set up enabling us all to ‘talk’ to each other over the previous months. Paula, Gemma, Scotty, Ronnie and Paul L (my boss!) were all there, looking equally worried, nervous grins on their faces. Annemarie and I said goodbye to our husbands, both looking a little awkward because they didn’t know any of the people they were leaving us with and probably feeling a bit left out as we were about to head off on our big adventure. It was soon decided that we would find somewhere to get a drink and some food and having met with the rest of the group we all trouped off to find somewhere to park ourselves. Donna and Karen headed straight for the champagne bar, a fact that really impressed me as I had been trying my hardest to be tee-total for the last month and here they were on the very eve of the trek putting it away without a care in the world…may be they were the sensible ones!

The rest of the group started chatting and getting to know each other and it was quickly apparent that it was a really great bunch of people and that there were going to be a few laughs along the way…we even got introduced to Scotty’s page 3 girlfriend courtesy of an appearance in the Daily Star that very day! I remember thinking how sweet it was that he was worried that a bunch of near strangers would be making judgements about him because of this when in fact I think most of us were actually very impressed! I had already adopted Scotty as my Kili son and soon realised that all these people would be part of a Kili family for the next 11 days. A bond was already forming.

Once we had boarded the plane the reality of what we were doing began to sink in. It was an eight hour night flight and we knew that we needed to sleep so as not to start the trek on a bad footing. The Kenyan Airways cabin witches didn’t exactly make it a welcoming flight and sleep didn’t come easily sat in the middle seat with nowhere to rest my head but it went surprisingly quickly considering and as dawn broke we found ourselves in Keyna.