This post follows my previous post on Intent in which I described how I divided my Intent for my trip to Tanzania into four levels. Here, after I briefly introduce who we were and what we did, I describe my adventure in terms of the four levels of Intent I had decided upon before leaving.
Getting there is half the battle: To get to Africa (from California,) one has to be willing to endure 30-40 hours of mind-body numbing travel, through multiple airports, 10 time zones, plane changes, late luggage, crazy, incomprehensible customs/immigration processes, etc. It is an ordeal – exhausting, but necessary. Several of us gave ourselves 2 days to recover on arrival in Arusha before we began our expedition. I could have used another day on the front end, and even more coming home. But it was very much worth it.
There were 14 of us, some of whom I knew from having done NOLS expeditions with them. The others were friends of theirs, and friends of friends. Most of us were over 50, the oldest, a surprisingly fit and resilient man of 73, three intrepid women in their 60s, two women who were giving their 20-something sons the expedition as a college graduation gift – with the caveat that their mothers would accompany them and share their tent! Seven women, seven men – all successful, well educated, white middle/upper middle class. I was the only one in the group with a military background. We gelled as a group, and got along very well.
Our expedition included 8 days and 7 nights climbing Mt Kilimanjaro, (the Lemoshe Route) followed by a night back in Arusha for a shower and a good meal, and then we were off on a 5 day/ 4 night safari to three wild animal parks in Tanzania. The safari, which I somewhat indifferently signed up for, thinking to myself, “What the hell – I’m in Africa!” surprised me at how amazing it was to be up close and in the midst of so much wildlife I’d never seen before, except on TV or in a zoo. Climbing Mt Kilimanjaro was great, but the safari was the great surprise. I loved it.
So how did it go? Below is my assessment of how I fulfilled my four levels of intent on this adventure-of-a-lifetime.
Intent #1: Find Adventure, Excitement, Stimulation: To begin with, just experiencing life in and around Arusha, Tanzania for a few days prior to and after the climb and safari was pretty damn interesting and stimulating.
Regarding the climb and the safari:
- The hike was different. Hiking in a large group with African guides, setting a slow pace, made the trek doable for all of us and facilitated our altitude acclimatization. It was all on trail and there were no technical parts. I just had to walk at someone else’s slow pace, and do what I was told – which made this hike a lot easier than a NOLS expedition, which requires more thinking, decision making, and off-trail route-finding. The slow pace was challenging, but I’m sure it greatly facilitated the altitude acclimatization
- The porters and guides. Wow! I’d never hiked/camped with professional porters. There is a tradition of porters providing camp-comfort for their clients in East Africa that goes back to the days of British big game hunters (I read about this in Hemingway’s Green Hills of Africa) There were 59 (!) guides, staff, porters and support helping 14 of us get to the summit. All we had to do was walk, eat, and sleep. They cooked, set up tents, carried all the camp comfort items (to include portable toilets!) to each of our campsites and even set up eating and cooking tents for our mid-day meal. They prepared and served us 3 good hots a day during the entire expedition. We awoke to hot coffee brought to us in our tents. By my standards a very “Gucci” way to be in the outdoors!
- I had never hiked/climbed to 19.3 K feet before. But the acclimatization process worked: We hiked at a slow pace, and camped at 9k, 11k, 13k (2x) then 15.5k before we summited. We certainly felt the altitude, but we managed it and our whole group summited. Our superb guides told us that if we followed their guidance, they’d get us to the top. And they did. They were very professional and really knew their stuff. Our head guide had summited Mt K close to 200 times.
- The safari was a unique (for me) opportunity to observe so closely, so much wildlife living freely in the wild. In the national wildlife parks, a Toyota Land Cruiser full of tourists seems invisible to the wildlife; they are very accustomed to us being there but not interfering. We pulled up literally within a few feet of a pride of lions and they made no indication that they saw us nor cared. We saw up close the full spectrum of African savannah wildlife, doing their in-the-wild thing, to include lions taking down a cape buffalo, leopards mating, hyenas feasting, lots of elephants, hippos, zebras, giraffes, wart-hogs, a wide variety of antelopes and gazelles, and much more. Up very close. Very exciting.
Intent #2: Deepen Connections with People: Our group got along very well, shared a unique experience, and enjoyed getting to know each other better. But though we gave each other morale support, we didn’t face any real challenges in which we had to work together – the porters did everything for us. It was not like a NOLS expedition, in which participants HAVE to work together to cook, set up/take down tents, navigate, route-find, deal with challenges on the trail and in camp. The porters and staff made it easy for us – that was their job – so we didn’t achieve the special bonding born of having to work and struggle together to overcome challenges. While that is an important part of a NOLS expedition, it was not the intent of this expedition.
I was able to connect with the Tanzanian guides and porters by making an effort to learn some Swahili – a language which is not that hard for westerners to speak or learn. Learning a number of key phrases and continuing to ask for coaching in their language connected me with many in the team leading us. I had fun learning, and they had fun teaching me. Among them, I was known as “Bobu Chura” – Swahili for “Grandpa Frog.” Hakuna Matata (no problem!)
All fourteen of us were amazed by our guides, porters, cooks, and staff. When we said our goodbyes, our spokesman Jerry noted that one of the major highlights of our whole experience was the sincere joy these guys showed in helping us pampered Western low-landers have a great experience on their mountain. We were all blown away by their fitness, strength, agility, professionalism, and upbeat attitude. A couple of times we arrived in camp to be welcomed by our porters and staff singing and dancing – take a look here at a short video (by Jay Poe from our expedition) of them greeting us as we reached our campsite at the Baranco Wall. I’ve watched it regularly to take me back to the mountain.
Intent #3: Personal Growth: Character and Resilience: First, it’s a test of one’s character and resilience to just deal with the long, international travel to get to Tanzania. But that aside, the toughest part of most high mountain climbs is summiting – which for us was a long and very tiring 11 hour day. Some in our group had digestive problems and a bit of altitude sickness; their character and resilience were REALLY tested, and impressively, they powered thru and persevered. Everyone summited. We all had to show patience with each other and the circumstances, help each other out, share with each other, support the porters, and by and large I thought our whole group did well.
The hardest physical and mental part of the climb for me was the early part of the hike, when I was still jet-lagged and not sleeping well. For a day or so, I was just hanging in there. Once I had a couple of long hikes under my belt and was sleeping 8 hours a night, I was Ok. I was lucky and didn’t have difficulties with digestion nor attitude, and so I didn’t have to dig very deep to just hike, eat, and sleep. Summit day pushed me, especially on descent. The steep downhill portions stressed my old-guy-with-a-new-hip balance – I had to stay really focused. There were times I looked and felt pretty old and fragile.
Intent #4: Personal Growth: Spiritual: I’m still processing this – it all happened so quickly, there was almost no time for reflection while we were there, and I’ve been very busy catching up since returning. And I’m still contemplating just what “spiritual growth” means to me, how I attain it, what it feels like, and how I build on it. But from the perspective of simply consciousness-raising, and perspective-expanding, I would say:
- Just being in the developing world in general, and Africa in particular, is a consciousness expanding experience. The chaos and energy of the city of Arusha, the Masai walking along the road in their bright colored Serapis, herding their goats, and cattle – these people’s world and lives are (or at least seem) so very different from ours. One gets a deeper sense of one’s humanity.
- Being on the Safari and being so close to the natural food chain, but (in our Land cruisers) apart from and (almost) immune from it, was a powerful reminder of how our ancestors lived not so many generations removed from us. I read the book The Shadow of Kilimanjaro which helped me to appreciate how fragile the ecosystem is, and the challenges African countries face in protecting wildlife.
- Again, the porters! How little they had and how positive and happy they always seemed to be! They were all wearing donated clothes and shoes and doing very hard work. They inspired us with what they did and with their smiles and support – every day.
We felt pretty special making it to the summit – just like the other 50k-plus other people who climb Mt Kilimanjaro every year. So much for feeling really special, huh? But still – it WAS special. – it felt special to me, and to each of us who did it.
My four levels of intent was a useful framework for me to consider this adventure. I easily met my bottom three levels of intent, but am still processing the spiritual dimension. I am making a point of regularly closing my eyes and taking myself back to Arusha, to the trail up the mountain, to the eating tent with my trekking mates, to the joy of the porters and guides, to the summit, to the safari – and appreciating that it is ALL STILL THERE, all still happening, in parallel with the very comfortable life I lead in San Diego. Those moments are special. As they say in Swahili, “Mambo yoti sawa” – it’s all good!