The next few blog posts are going to be different than usual, as I am in Africa and will be writing about my trip. Hopefully it will include some memorable conversations.
This whole trip to Africa (Nairobi, Kenya and Mt. Kilimanjaro, Tanzania) started about 3 years ago. I had been talking to a friend about my upcoming birthday (47th), which led to him helpfully reminding me that it would only be three years until I turned 50. “You went to to celebrate your 40th birthday,” he said. “How are you going to top that for your 50th?”
Good question. I thought about it for several months, and happened to read a magazine article about a woman who had recently hiked to the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro. She wrote about her experience and it sounded fascinating. It seemed like an excellent way to celebrate a 50th birthday, for sure. Especially since I was born in Asmara, Ethiopia. How appropriate that I turn 50 by hiking up the highest mountain in Africa.
So here I am, three years later, sitting in Nairobi wondering what in the hell I was thinking. Haha, just kidding. I’m having the time of my life. It has been three years of serious planning and it is hard to believe that the adventure has finally arrived. I’ve been physically preparing for the hike by working out at the gym and hiking around Virginia as often as possible. I’d never hiked in my life until I set this goal, so I have spent an inordinate amount of money at REI. (Bob, if you are reading this, I am lying, it wasn’t that much money.)
After much research, I selected Serengeti Pride Safaris as the tour group I would use for the hike. They had really incredible references, one of the owners, Erika Bloom lives in Massachusetts, and they had already scheduled a hike that would begin on September 18th with the summit of the mountain happening the morning of September 24th – my 50th birthday. It was serendipity. You can see an interview my brother conducted between Erika and I at this link.
Bob made it clear he had no interest in hiking the mountain with me. Actually that is a good thing, because I told him he was in a no-win situation. If he came with me and for some reason could not complete the hike, I would feel compelled to stay with him instead of going on to the top without him. If the situation were reversed, and I was the one incapacitated, I would kill him if he left me and went on to the summit. So it is best that he is not going.
Instead, he and three good friends of mine are flying to Nairobi, Kenya to meet me after the hike and the five of us are going to go on a five day safari. They are all arriving into Kenya while I am still on the mountain so they can do some tourist activities around Nairobi before I arrive. Seriously, who flies to Africa for just five days?
I used frequent flier miles to pay for mine and Bob’s airfare. That was an adventure. While I’m willing to go 8 days without a shower, sleep on the ground in a tent, and suffer -20 degree temperature at the top of Mt. Kili, there is no way I was going to fly coach class to Africa. And I knew Bob would not agree to go if it meant flying coach. So the only thing standing between me and two first class airline tickets was 250,000 United Frequent Flier miles.
I am not going to talk about what it took over a 24 month period to get those miles because it would incriminate me. Let it suffice to say that there is a new expense policy at my company thanks to me. Plus many of the major purchases my friends planned on paying for with cash went through my credit card first. I was pretty obnoxious – but it was worth it – two first class round trip tickets later…..
I think the hardest part of this entire trip has been the packing. I am limited to 33 pounds for my hike, and 33 pounds for the safari. The week before my flight left, it looked like REI had exploded in the master bedroom. The hike requires all sorts of cold weather gear as the top of the mountain is 19,400 feet. It is anywhere from zero to minus 20 degrees F at the top. I now own a balaclava. When I put it on I look like a muslim woman. I own fleece pants, insulated long underwear, the works. I did finally manage to get everything I needed into two duffel bags – one for the hike and one for the safari. But it wasn’t easy.
I left from Dulles airport on Thursday (9/13) at 6pm and flew for 8 hours to Zurich, Switzerland. After a 90 minute layover, I flew another 9 hours to Nairobi. Let me tell you, flying first class makes all the difference. It is unbelievable, like a small New York apartment. On the Swiss Air flight from Zurich they even make up the bed with a down comforter. I wanted to take it with me but the flight attendant said they frowned on that sort of thing.